Issues

35,000 Combat Veterans Denied Health Care Because of VA Computer Error

VA Secretary Robert McDonald
VA Secretary Robert McDonald / AP

The Department of Veterans Affairs is denying over 35,000 combat veterans health care enrollment because of an error in its computer system, and nearly half of the veterans have been waiting for coverage for more than five years.

According to a document leaked to the Huffington Post by VA whistleblower Scott Davis, a recent analysis conducted by the agency indicates that 35,093 combat veterans who applied for health care with the VA are currently designated with "pending" status for enrollment because they did not complete a "means test" that examines their household income.

However, such a test is not required for combat veterans specifically, as is stipulated by the VA on its website. Veterans who served in combat operations are automatically eligible for five years of free health coverage with the VA, a privilege that expires after five years.

Among the combat veterans being incorrectly denied coverage–most of whom served in Afghanistan or Iraq–16,000 have had a "pending" status for more than five years, indicating that their eligibility for free coverage has expired.

According to VA spokeswoman Walinda West, the government agency is "actively taking action to enroll and further reach out to these Veterans (by telephone and letters) due to the length of time some of these applications have been pending."

VA management officials have had knowledge of the computer error since at least April, three months later requesting a computer script be developed to correct the problem. The script has yet to be created.

While Davis alleged that there is a simple fix that VA Secretary Bob McDonald could order, West insisted that McDonald "does not have the legal authority" to automatically enroll the combat veterans in VA health coverage and that the agency is taking "steps to contact and/or enroll these applicants."

"We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that this issue may have caused our veterans. We are working to get this right," she said.

Revelations of the computer problem come less than a month after a separate leaked document indicated that nearly one-third of veterans awaiting health care coverage at the VA have already died.

In remarks last month, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) called for the Department of Veterans Affairs to be "fundamentally turned on its head" to fix its "severe problems" and "dysfunctional" structure.

While Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.) has sought to resolve said structural issue in the wake of the VA fake waitlist scandal by introducing a bill that would allow McDonald to remove or demote an employee on the grounds of poor performance or misconduct, President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs, chaired by Miller, has reached out to the VA regarding the  newly revealed computer problem and has yet to receive a response.