Tampa, FL – Several months ago, six (6) current and former employees of the Oakland VA Regional Office (VARO), brought an outrageous story to our attention; of 13,184 unprocessed veteran claims that were found by employees at the VARO in 2012. They had contacted Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and the VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG); but it had been months since they had heard anything on the subsequent investigation conducted by the VA-OIG and they (rightfully) feared that the veterans, whose claims had been ignored for, in some cases, twenty (20) years, would disappear forever.
This week, the VA-OIG finally released its ten (10) page report on the “investigation” it conducted last July. It details an abysmal failure by the VARO leadership to maintain veterans records, process claims in accordance with 38 CFR 3.155(a) or even abide by the most basic of federal regulations regarding care of government records.
“A Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) management support team, sent to assist with operations of the Oakland Veterans Service Center from October through November 2012, located approximately 14,000 informal claims dating back to the mid-1990s in a file cabinet. Management stated it counted the documents and identified 13,184 informal claims of which 2,155 informal claims required review or action.
We substantiated the allegations Oakland VARO staff did not correctly process informal claims and improperly stored informal claims. Because of poor record keeping, we could not verify the VARO’s original document count of 13,184 unprocessed informal claims, or the 2,155 identified informal claims requiring additional review or action.
VARO staff did not maintain adequate records and provide the oversight needed to ensure timely processing and storage of these informal claims. As a result, veterans did not receive consideration for benefits to which they may have been entitled.”
What this report does not do is actually identify the egregious wrongdoing committed deliberately by the leadership at Oakland VARO. The VA-OIG once again, seemingly absolves those involved in denying over 13,000 veterans their rightfully earned benefits and services. What it also does is sends a clear message to the 12,500 veterans whose claims the VA-OIG didn’t deem it necessary to obtain proof that “No Action (was) Necessary” – as the VARO claims they were.
We applaud Congressman LaMalfa, his staff and especially the brave employees who came forward; for without their efforts, the public, Congress and most importantly, the affected veterans would have never known “why” these claims were never processed.
Unfortunately, because the VA-OIG has once again “Failed to substantiate” anyone responsible or recommend that the 13,184 veterans claims be fully reviewed and processed in accordance with law and policy; thousands of veterans and their families have been illegally deprived of their benefits and services.
If VA receives an incomplete application, VA will notify the claimant of the information necessary to complete the application and will defer assistance until the claimant submits this information. 38 CFR 3.159(b)(2).
If VA does not receive a complete claim within 1 year of receipt of the incomplete application, VA will not take action on processing or adjudicating the incomplete claim. The date of receipt of the incomplete application or informal claim will be preserved as a date of claim if a completed application is submitted within 1 year of receipt. However, if VA does not receive the completed application or the information or evidence necessary to substantiate the claim within 1 year of submission, the date of receipt of the claim would not be preserved and the claimant would have to submit or resubmit a completed claim, resulting in a different date of claim.
VA receives an enormous volume of non-standard submissions under its current rules.
Current 38 CFR 3.155(a) provides that ”[a]ny communication or action, indicating an intent to apply for benefits . . . may be considered an informal claim.” If a claimant submits an informal claim, and a claim on a form prescribed by the Secretary is not previously of record, VA will furnish the appropriate application, depending upon the particular benefit sought, for completion and notify the claimant that the date VA received the informal claim will be preserved as the date of claim for effective date purposes if the completed application is filed within 1 year of the date it was sent.
If a completed application is not received within the 1-year timeframe, VA will not take further action on the informal claim.