The Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general just released a disturbing report, showing that staff at six different regional offices had totally disregarded policy and scheduled documents involved in benefits claims for shredding.
For years, there have been allegations of veterans’ claims being placed in the shredding box for destruction. Now, in a follow-up investigation, the IG has determined there are no good policies in place to “prevent VARO [Veterans Affairs Regional Office] staff from potentially destroying claims-related documents.”
Out of ten regional offices, six had serious problems. A total of 69 out of 155 claims-related documents assessed had been placed in the shredding box after staff failed to link the documents to the appropriate veterans. That’s a rate of 45 percent.
Document shredding has likely taken place, and it isn’t going away anytime soon.
Since the problem was present at 60 percent of the offices examined, the inspector general has come to the conclusion that “this is a systemic issue within VBA [Veterans Benefits Administration].”
Meanwhile, both staff and management remain somewhat confused about document-shredding policies, partly because they never received their yearly mandated training, which was skipped.
Staff responsible for managing records didn’t consistently review documents, which increased the risk of shredding.
According to the IG, this unfortunate practice “could result in loss of claims and medical evidence, incorrect decisions, and delays in claims processing.”
“In our review of these 10 VAROs, we found 69 claims-related documents improperly scheduled for destruction,” the IG report added. “However, the potential effect on veterans should not be minimized. Considering that there are 56 VAROs and if weekly shredding is conducted, it is highly likely that claims-related documents at other VAROs are being improperly scheduled for destruction that could result in loss of claims and evidence, incorrect decisions, and delays in claims processing.”
To prevent inappropriate shredding, both the employee and supervisor are supposed to sign off on documents slated for destruction. Out of all 69 claims-related documents examined by the IG, not a single had all the signatures necessary as laid out by policy.
The VA IG released a report in August 2015 assessing claims shredding at the Los Angeles regional office, at which point it was revealed the practice had been occurring since at least 2008. That’s the year the VA decided to create the position of Records Management Officer. Despite the creation of a new position, documents are still being shredded.
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