From 2007 to 2015, a group of Minnesota veterans were denied disability benefits. A local TV station investigation brought the problem to the attention of the VA, and now the department is reviewing similar cases nationwide.
A House Veterans’ Affairs panel was told that the VA is working to resolve denied disability claims that occurred as a result of the veterans being examined by VA physicians considered unqualified to make TBI (traumatic brain injury) determinations.
The Military Times reported in “VA doubling back to resolve TBI claims denials” that an investigation by a Minneapolis TV station found that as many as 300 veterans at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center were denied benefits. As a result, the VA said it would review all cases involving veterans with improper exams. In June, VA announced it would send letters offering new exams to more than 24,000 veterans who received the diagnosis improperly.
Dave McLenachen, deputy undersecretary for disability assistance at the Veterans Benefits Administration, told a House Veterans' Affairs panel that he couldn’t "find a reason” why the exams were conducted in violation of VA policy at a number of VA facilities.
“I don’t know if it was a lack of capacity, whether that was an issue at the particular time, or to the extent whether there were enough of those specific specialists available at the time. I don't know the answer to that question," McLenachen said.
The investigation by the local TV station found that only one of the 21 medical professionals who conducted initial TBI exams at the Minneapolis VA was a qualified specialist—which is a physiatrist, psychiatrist, neurosurgeon or neurologist.
More than 327,000 troops were diagnosed with a brain injury from 2000 to 2015. Roughly 80% of those diagnoses were for mild TBI—or a concussion. About 170,000 veterans with TBI filed disability compensation claims. Approximately 75,000 have been approved.
Members of Congress expressed concern over the disparities—some of which can't be explained by the VA's failure to use specialists to diagnose veterans.
The committee staff has been attempting “to get to the bottom of what happened and who is responsible,” remarked chairman Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-LA. However, “after four separate briefings, the answers are not clear," he said.
Abraham further noted the only thing that is clear in this mess is that there was a failure to communicate between the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Veterans Health Administration—and a failure to hold those responsible for the mistakes accountable.
Reference: Military Times (July 14, 2016) “VA doubling back to resolve TBI claims denials”