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Discharged and dishonored: Shortchanging America's veteransCHRIS ADAMS and ALISON YOUNG
Jan 14, 2006
Online Therapy Treatment
TECHNOLOGY FALLS BEHINDEven when a service officer does a good job, veterans' claims often get bogged down in the VA's 57 regional offices, where veterans' claims are processed.
In an electronic age, these regional offices are a throwback to an ink-and-paper world. In Waco, Texas, the records room is almost the length of a football field, with row after row of file cabinets - 2,700 in all - containing records that date back six decades.
Workers wheel massive brown folders with rubber bands around them around on carts, shifting them from one table to the next as they move through the approval process. In the constant shuffle of paper, things get lost and mistakes get made.
Nationwide, errors are made in 13 percent of claims, more than three times the agency's hoped-for rate of 4 percent, according to a VA quality-control database that reviews a sample of the decisions. That translates to 103,000 errors a year; in many cases they can result in either an overpayment or an underpayment of benefits.
"I don't think anybody is proud of the fact that we have" a 13 percent error rate, said Michael Walcoff, who oversees the agency's regional offices. Errors often trigger appeals, sending thousands of veterans into an ongoing cycle of mistakes, appeals, rehearings, mistakes, appeals, rehearings. In some regional offices, the error rate last year was far worse - as high as 23 percent in Wilmington, Del. (The low was 3 percent, in Des Moines, Iowa.) And such varied performances affect nearly every aspect of a veteran's experience:
The percentage of all types of claims that are approved ranges from 89 percent in St. Paul to less than 70 percent in Jackson, Miss., and Cheyenne, Wyo., according to an annual VA survey of veterans.
Perhaps not surprisingly, "satisfaction" among veterans is highest in St. Paul, at 73 percent, compared with 50 percent in Atlanta.
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