Posted on Jul 12, 2016

In a disturbing report, the VA Office of the Inspector General says that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been systematically shredding documents related to veterans’ benefit claims. Recently inspectors made spot checks at ten VA offices in various parts of the country and found that VA staff members were routinely destroying mail related to claims, the OIG says.  The audit was ordered when reports of inappropriate shredding surfaced in Los Angeles. 

During the spot checks the OIG investigators dug through more than 400,000 documents tagged for destruction at regional VA offices.  Of 155 claims-related documents, 69 were judged to be incorrectly headed for the shredder at six of the offices (Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Reno), according to The OIG report concluded that, "The potential effect should not be minimized. Considering that there are 56 [VA regional offices], and if weekly shredding is conducted, it is highly likely that claims-related documents at other VAROs are being improperly scheduled for destruction that could result in loss of claims and evidence, incorrect decisions and delays in claims processing.” Stars and Stripes reported that “the Inspector General’s office determined that the errors in destroying claims documents in general stemmed from a lack of understanding of the Veteran’s Benefits Administration policy on managing paper records. The VBA’s policy was revised in 2011, three years after the policy was created. The report said management and staff found the policy unclear and confusing.”

Stars and Stripes went on to report: “The OIG’s office recommended that the Acting Under Secretary for Benefits Danny Pummill revise the policy to ensure claims documents are clearly identified, and that there are detailed and standardized procedures for records management staff to review documents. It also called for safeguards to ensure that the documents get the mandated levels of review, that employees comply with the policy and that supervisors conduct periodic reviews of the claims-related documents slated for shredding.

In its response, the Veteran’s Benefits Administration concurred with the recommendations and agreed to revise the policy and also realign staff responsibilities to ‘ensure procedures are in place to track all shredding violations identified.’ But it denied that the findings indicated a systemic issue. ‘VBA knows that every veteran’s record is important and regrets these human errors,’ the response said. ‘However we disagree that a fraction of a percentage error rate is indicative of a systemic issue.’"

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Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska