Veterans Affairs officials on Wednesday acknowledged additional technical problems with the department’s online disability claims filing process that affected tens of thousands more veterans than previously reported, raising new concerns about the reliability of the system.
The news comes less than two weeks after VA leaders announced that about 32,000 disability claims had been lost in the computer systems for several months or years because of similar technical glitches.
“We are taking immediate action to resolve these issues, prevent them from happening again in the future, and contact all those impacted by them,” VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said in a statement.
“While these issues were limited to a small percentage of veterans, it’s unacceptable for even one veteran to be delayed due to technological issues. We will make sure that no veteran’s benefits or appeals are negatively impacted by our errors.”
Wednesday’s announcement includes nearly 57,000 additional cases. Most involve veterans who tried to add or remove dependents to their existing disability claims, moves that could have changed their monthly payouts by several thousand dollars a year.
Some of the cases have been left unaddressed since the VA.gov filing system went online in 2011, although department officials could not say how many were more than a decade old.
In addition, about 900 individuals who filed disability case appeals since late July were unable to access proper paperwork because of a software mistake introduced during a website update. VA officials said the dependent changes and appeals cases are being addressed.
Department leaders said both newly discovered glitches are being addressed and promised “a full review of all VA.gov processing systems” in light of the recent issues. That will include “creating new technological measures to immediately flag any claims that are not processed correctly, so they can be addressed immediately.”
Officials also said that individuals whose cases were delayed by the mistakes will have their cases backdated to the days when processing should have begun so that “no veterans are negatively impacted by our error.”
The 56,000-dependency-claims mistakes represent about 7% of all such cases filed in the last 12 years. The 900 appeals cases caught in the other glitch represent almost 75% of the appeals filed through the online portal in the last six weeks.
The 32,000 delayed disability compensation claims announced last month are an even smaller fraction of the department’s caseload, with more than 7 million claims filed since the start of 2018.
But the discovery of year-old technical issues in recent months compounds existing concerns among advocates and lawmakers about their long-term software management plans.
In recent months, Congress has leveled harsh criticism at VA leadership for delays with its new electronic health records system, a 10-year, $16-billion project that has been repeatedly stalled because of similar glitches and shutdowns.
And in the days before an Aug. 10 deadline for veterans to apply for retroactive disability benefits related to the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (better known as the PACT Act), technical problems with the online case filing system caused numerous veterans to be booted from the system. Officials had to extend the deadline by four days to ensure all veterans were able to access the needed forms.
In a statement, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., called the latest technical problems concering and frustrating.
“This is especially disturbing given the fact that the American taxpayers have invested billions of dollars in VA’s IT systems to ensure mistakes like this never happen, and to make sure we are providing veterans and their families with the level of service they have earned,” he said. “But it’s clear to me that VA hasn’t been doing that.
Veterans with questions about their pending disability claims can call 1-800-827-1000 for more information.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.