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Report: VA Misses Symptoms in Some Exams


Report: VA Misses Symptoms in Some Exams
Associated Press | October 15, 2005

WASHINGTON - The Veterans Affairs Department doesn't consider some necessary medical factors in about one in five of its most common types of exams, congressional investigators said in a report released Friday.

Still, the department has improved considerably since 2002, when 61 percent of its reports from joint and spine impairment exams were insufficient for regional offices to judge veterans' benefit eligibility. Now 22 percent of the reports are inadequate for case reviews, concluded an investigation by the Government Accountability Office.

In assessing joint and spine injuries, the VA must factor in pain and fatigue that occur after repetitive use or during a flare-up of the condition, according to a 1995 appeals court ruling. It concluded that case reviewers cannot properly determine benefits if VA medical centers don't provide this type of information.

"It's certainly discouraging to learn that 10 years after the court required VA to consider the effect of pain and repetitive motion on disabilities, one out of every five veterans still receives an inadequate medical examination," said Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., who requested the GAO report. But VA spokesman Scott Hogenson said the department had achieved "remarkable success" in improving procedures. "We're proud that we have reduced the number of cases that don't comply by almost 64 percent in less than four years."

The GAO report also found wide variation within the Veterans Health Administration's 21 regions. In New England, only 57 percent of reports from these types of exams provided information about pain, fatigue and flare-ups. The two regions that cover North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma tied for the highest score, with 92 percent of their joint and spine exam reports including adequate information.

The GAO recommended that the department develop a strategy for improving the consistency of VA medical center exam reports.

In its formal response to the report, the department agreed that more consistency is necessary, but also said "it is premature at this point to devise a new strategy to accomplish that goal." The report was released Friday by Evans' office. It will be considered at a congressional hearing scheduled for Oct. 20.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press.


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