Audit: More than half of mail that piled up at VA hospital held essential medical documents

ATLANTA — Months after Channel 2 Action News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed a massive stack of mail that had piled up at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Hospital, a new report shows what was in that all that unopened mail.

Channel 2′s Justin Gray has been following the story for months. Investigators determined that 17,000 items were left sitting in stacks in the medical center’s basement.

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An internal government audit found that leadership at the VA knew that mail was piling up for nearly a year. But investigators determined the VA only took action after Channel 2 and the AJC shared photos of the stacks of unopened mail.

Gray first obtained the photos in September. At that time, Gray could only guess what was inside the mail based on codes that Channel 2 sources saw on the outside of the packages. Now, it’s clear what was inside.


“Fifty-seven percent of the mail caught in the backlog was medical documentation,” officials said.

According to Deputy Assistant Inspector General Leigh Ann Searight, patients lacking medical documentation could have their care delayed or doctors could make medical decisions for them based on incomplete documentation.

One of the items left in the basement? An unpaid bill for a veteran’s emergency care, with a handwritten note saying, “Please help me.”

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“If that was sitting there for 10 months, I’m sure collection agencies are coming after him or her and not getting assistance, because no one is opening the mail,” Searight said.

Searight’s team found that the Atlanta VA knew about the mail for at least eight months.

The issue boiled down to a dispute between two different VA departments about whose responsibility opening the mail was.

“It was really just a really bad breakdown in communicating problems and figuring out how to solve those problems,” Searight said.

The audit found that staff members have now sorted the mail and are in the process of scanning in the 10,000 medical records found in the backlog.

The Atlanta VA said they have processed the entire backlog and completed two of three recommendations from the inspector general for going forward. The third of those action items is expected to be completed next month.