- Efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to address years of criticism and wait time scandals may have swung too far in the opposite direction, with quick processing and reduced evidence requirements now opening the door to waste and fraud, critics say.
- Sources told The Wall Street Journal that veterans and VA clinic staffers share advice on how to easily increase their compensation, such as claiming to suffer nightmares or to "act like you have a screw loose."
- Meanwhile, the VA contended its move to a fully electronic system has increased both speed and accuracy, highlighting that the average wait for a disability-claim decision dropped to 94 days this year -- down 67% from 2013.
The VA is between a rock and a hard place with pressure to both serve veterans faster and to take more care as it does so. It's unclear how much its efforts to speed service have actually improved service; although the VA has its 94-day decision wait-time statistic to tout, the department has remained in the spotlight over problems including lack of access to primary care and debate around VA privatization.
“Much of what [the VA] is trying to do is built around quickly processing claims,” Daniel Bertoni of the U.S. Government Accountability Office told WSJ. “There’s always a danger to cut corners.”
Stats show disability payments to veterans quadrupled from 2000 to 2015, reaching $60 billion. There are numerous reasons contributing to that rise, the Journal found.
These include a wave of more than five million new veterans separating from the military since 2001; more injured soldiers surviving due to improved trauma care; and reduced evidence requirements for some types of claims including PTSD.
After the VA stopped requiring proof of a tramatizing event to claim PTSD in 2010, approved PTSD claims almost doubled--though some argue for the new standard is appropriate because veterans don't need a specific incident to cause PTSD.
Another major change has been the broadening of “presumptions” for what conditions are considered duty-related without proof, with veterans increasingly receiving benefits for conditions related to ordinary aging, such as heart disease or prostate cancer, the Journal quoted former VA secretary Anthony Principi.