WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials are on track to waste more than $100 million over the next five years on tens of thousands of unnecessary medical exams for disabled veterans, according a report out this week from the department’s watchdog.
The VA Inspector General’s findings are based off a sampling of re-examination cases last year that indicated department officials may have requested unneeded medical check-ups in 37 percent of benefits cases.
The exams are designed to see whether veterans’ health has improved enough to warrant changes in their disability payouts. VA covers the cost of the exams, but the process can still be time-consuming and inconvenient for the veterans involved.
Investigators found that a sizable portion of cases that should be clearly exempt from those periodic checks — including ones where veterans have a permanent disability or where benefits changes are unlikely — were frequently ordered despite existing rules.
They blamed the problem on ratings officials skipping over pre-exam reviews of veterans cases which would have alerted them to reasons to change the standard medical report schedules.
“The review team estimated that (the Veterans Benefits Administration) spent $10.1 million on unwarranted reexaminations during the six-month review period,” the report stated. “VBA would waste $100.6 million on unwarranted reexaminations over the next five years without instituting procedures to ensure employees only request necessary reexaminations.”
The inspector general noted that the numerous excessive exams also put additional pressure on claims processors and VA physicians, by increasing their workload without proper justification.
VBA officials agreed with the bulk of the report and said they hope to implement new internal controls by this November to help address the problem. They are also planning more internal scrutiny of claims officials requesting the exams, to make sure they understand existing rules and processes.
The agency has also begun collecting data for recurring reports on how many unneeded exams are ordered, to get a better sense of the scope of the problem.
The full report is available at the inspector general’s web site.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.