Report: Roanoke's Veterans Affairs office mishandled data

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - A recent probe into Roanoke's Regional Veterans Affairs office shows the office hasn't handled the backlog in veteran claims as well as it appeared.

The Office of the Inspector General came out with a report this month on a yearlong investigation into Roanoke's Regional Veterans Affairs office.

It shows that some people in this office manipulated data to make it look like they were doing more work than they actually were.

For years, the backlog of information and claims has bogged down the image and efficiency of Veterans Affairs.

The Roanoke Regional office appeared to be helping to fix that.

In 2013, Senator Mark Warner visited Roanoke to take a closer look at their efforts. At the time, he told WDBJ7 it looked like the new, computerized system was doing well with the help of the legal clinic from the William and Mary Law School.

"I think we've lit a fire though and this is a model that hopefully we'll replicate across the county," Warner, a democrat, said in 2013.

And in 2016, representatives for Roanoke's office told WDBJ7 it was making improvements in time taken to process claims.

But a new report shows staff in the Veterans' Service Center merged appeals by veterans - making it look like there was less work to do.

The Office of Inspector General started investigating the situation after an anonymous tip last year.

In more than 330 veterans' appeal records examined, the review found 84 percent were improperly closed. That mean there was no proof that a veteran has submitted a withdrawal request.

Because of this investigation, the people working on the appeals won't be receiving bonuses from fiscal year 2016 and this issue will be included in their performance evaluation. But no other specific details were given about what they were doing with personnel. The review, however, noted that most veterans were not directly harmed by this.

In a statement to WDBJ7, a representative for Roanoke's office wrote in an email:
"This practice was intended to streamline appeals processing for certain Veterans in our former paper-bound system. We agree that it affected appeals completion and timeliness and could have impaired our ability to identify and track the status of appealed issues. We have taken this matter seriously, to include rescinding the local practice and providing training to all appeals Veteran Service Representatives."

Senator Warner provided an updated statement on the review via email as well:

"I am concerned by the recent VA Office of Inspector General report on appeals data manipulation, which found that staff at the Roanoke Regional VA Office were not following VA protocol when entering appeals data into VA’s electronic database, causing some veterans to experience further delays in an already long appeals process. My office has been in contact with the Roanoke Regional Office on this issue, and I understand that they are in the process of implementing the Inspector General’s recommendations. I will continue to work with them to ensure that these recommendations are adopted, appeals continue to be processed in an efficient manner, and there is full transparency in the way this regional office oversees the veteran appeals process.”

This isn't the first time this office has been cited. In April of last year, a different review found the office prioritized new appeals over older ones, meaning thousands were never completed.

You can read the full report at the link attached to this article.