WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are asking the Department of Veterans Affairs to extend health care enrollment deadlines for more than 440,000 veterans who may have had their applications rejected because of coding errors made by the bureaucracy.
"Given the enormity of the impact on veterans, we urge you to take additional steps to further ensure veterans receive every opportunity to complete their applications and that those applications are not improperly closed due to VA error," top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees wrote in a letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin on Tuesday.
At issue are news reports in recent weeks that tens of thousands of health care applications may have been improperly rejected or stalled in recent years when VA workers switched two codes requesting different information on their financial and military history.
As a result, veterans were told to provide information they had already filed, leading to confusion and incomplete files.
The problem was identified last year, and VA officials pledged to resolve the mistakes by this month. But critics have questioned whether that work is complete, and lawmaker said they want to make sure no veterans are left without medical care because of the confusion.
The lawmakers are asking for Shulkin to extend deadlines for veterans to provide the missing information on their applications for another year, to ensure they will not have to restart the whole process.
They also want "an additional letter to those veterans who were potentially impacted by the coding error, clarifying what information is needed."
The VA Inspector General is also looking into the problem. Shulkin has promised to work to make the department — particularly health care offerings — more customer friendly in the years ahead.
About 7 million veterans use VA health services annually, according to department statistics. Veterans with service-connected injuries are eligible for medical care, and as others who recently left the military or meet financial means tests.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.