VA Presents Facts Omitted from Recent Article on Enrollment System

Caring for our nation’s Veterans is the highest honor and privilege for the men and women who serve them at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Our mission is to provide timely access to earned health care and benefits for millions of Veterans. That is a responsibility that we do not take lightly.

Over the past several months, it has become clear that we have fallen short when it comes to timely access to care. Today, we are working hard with Veterans Service Organizations, Congress and others to take corrective actions, accelerate access and begin to rebuild trust with the Veterans who entrust us with their care. A third of VA’s employees are Veterans themselves and they come to work each day focused on making a difference.

It is important that we openly and willingly discuss our mistakes and how we intend to improve. As we acknowledge areas where more work is needed, we also need to set the record straight when our work is unfairly mischaracterized.

One such story alleged VA mishandled enrollment applications. While we have worked to make the enrollment process less complicated, it is an area VA has identified for improvement. As we move forward, our focus remains on enhancing the enrollment system to better serve Veterans.

However, the media report on this issue failed to include key facts and information provided by VA, which resulted in a misleading portrayal of VA’s work in this important area. Veterans and the public deserve to have a complete set of facts presented.

Since 1998, over 8.9 million Veterans have enrolled in our health care system. Approximately 2% of Veterans’ applications received were found to be incomplete. In each of these cases, we have worked closely with the Veteran to quickly notify them of the required information in order to complete their applications so that we may determine their eligibility to begin receiving care.

It is also important to note that there are situations in which a Veteran’s record transfers to our enrollment system even though the applicant does not intend to apply for health care, for example, Veterans applying for State Home Benefits. Current regulatory guidelines prohibit us from removing these records, resulting in VA leaving them in a pending status. We are working to resolve this situation so that our system will reflect only those Veterans who truly intend to apply for care and benefits, such as a Veteran who wishes to receive medical care for a service connected disability.

Enrollment applications can be processed by local VA medical centers or the VA Health Eligibility Center (HEC) in Atlanta, Georgia. In July 2014, the HEC processed paper enrollment applications within 5 business days nearly 80 percent of the time, and online applications were processed within 5 business days 67 percent of the time. In the fall of 2014, we are planning to implement additional changes which will make applying for care online faster and easier for Veterans.

Some key facts in response to recent allegations:

Allegation: The backlog of applications for care with pending status is 848,699.

VA Fact: HEC records show 216,736 true applications for care in a pending status.

  • A May 15, 2014 analysis of 896,237 pending enrollment records, found that only 216,736 records had an application date; an indicator that the Veteran applied for enrollment in VA’s health care system.
  • Of the true applications in pending status, 51% (110,571) require the Veteran’s submission of personal financial information and 49% (106,165) require the Veteran to provide evidence of qualifying military service in order to determine enrollment eligibility. We have been reaching out to these Veterans to let them know the additional information needed so that we may complete their application.
  • These pending applications are not backlogged as VA has processed these records to their fullest capability. (VA currently has no legal authority to move records from a pending status after outreach has occurred and no response is provided by the Veteran.)
  • VA has made significant progress in contacting those applicants identified as having a record in a pending status. In fact, VA contacted 213,354 Veterans by mail asking them to submit required documents to establish eligibility. To date, VA has received 22,769 responses and enrolled 15,316 Veterans, and outreach efforts are continuing.

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Allegation: As many as 47,786 Veterans with pending applications for care died because they failed to gain access to VA health care.

VA Fact: On August 7, the HEC concluded an analysis of 1,843 pending records. We learned that the majority of records associated with deceased Veterans (75%) were for Veterans who died who were not applying for health care benefits.

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Allegation: The online application rolled out with design flaws and didn’t allow Veterans to upload their discharge papers electronically, usually a DD-214 form.

VA Fact:  On the contrary, the online system is currently designed to be less burdensome by not requiring Veterans to submit documents, such as the DD 214 (the military’s Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), when VA can work with partners such as the Defense Department and Veterans Benefits Administration to verify an applicant’s military service through other mechanisms. VA can verify eligibility for approximately 65% of Veterans without a DD-214. For applicants that we can’t verify from our files, we contact them and ask them to provide the necessary documentation.

Allegation: VA managers did not share the information in the pending files so as to not draw attention to the issue.

VA Fact: Information on Pending Records was readily shared with network directors and Veterans Service Organizations (VSO). As recently as January of this year, data was presented to VSO’s to keep them informed.

We have focused our efforts over the last several years to make enrolling in our system more Veteran-friendly by:

  • Providing capability for Veterans to apply by telephone making it easier for Veterans so they do not have to travel to a VA medical center.
  • Deploying an online interactive Health Benefits Explorer, in which Veterans can learn about enrolling in VA health care by answering just a few questions from a computer. The Health Benefits Explorer can be found at: http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/health-benefits-explorer/
  • Lessening the amount of time to complete the application by 15 minutes by reducing the number of questions on our application form. (Veterans who wish to enroll for VA healthcare can apply at: http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/)
  • Eliminating the annual reporting requirement for most Veterans to provide financial information to VA.
  • Delivering a customized Veteran Health Benefits Handbook that provides new enrollees with a personalized description of benefits, contact and other useful information regarding accessing health care.
  • Deploying a new and safer Veterans Health Identification Card without a social security number, protecting Veterans from identity theft.

At VA, it is our privilege to provide care and benefits to America’s Veterans. Those who have questions about their enrollment may call VA at 1-877-222-VETS (8387) or visit https://www.1010ez.med.va.gov to apply.

Stephanie Mardon is the Acting Chief Business Officer for the Veterans Health Administration.

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About Stephanie Mardon

Stephanie Mardon is the Acting Chief Business Officer for the Veterans Health Administration.

19 Comments to “VA Presents Facts Omitted from Recent Article on Enrollment System”

  1. John Christofferson says:

    Thank you for this. I am extremely frustrated about the level of misleading reporting that I’ve been reading about the VA healthcare. I only wish these corrections could be as widely disseminated as the original reporting.

    • Kevin says:

      Its not the fact the VA has fallen short of their goals, its not the fact that there have been issues in enrollment, keep the facts out in the open when it comes to integrity and honesty. This is what damaged the VA from the beginning. As my father a WWII Vet had problems since 1945, I face the same problems in 2014. I would say this is more of a systemic problem, but i would go as far as to say there have been bona fide criminal acts over these many years. The boasting of 1/3 of the VA are veterans doesn’t work any more. GEN Shinseki a veteran himself ignored issues that has broken the very fabric of the VA healthcare system. There has to be accountability for what has been done. My concern is nothing will be done in order to improve any process because honestly there is no interest within the administration. As congress and more leaders grown in numbers from vets to non vets, they have no concept of even where to begin to fix these issues.

  2. How long is it taking to get an appointment ? I’ve been waiting for over a month to get my eyes examined. And I’m having a lot of problems..

  3. Pamela Lemerand says:

    There is a concern yet to be addressed:
    As more PCPs and Nurses are added, more patients will enter the system at one time. This will result in Vets accessing speciality services more quickly. Yet the VA is not hiring more professionals providers within the specialty areas. Yes, Vets can see specialists providers the community but they have to return to the VA Center for follow up to those community patient visits. For example, a patient may not be seen in the VA audiology (or could be optometry) clinic because there are not enough audiologists. The patient goes to an audiologist in the community and hearing aides are ordered. The VA audiologist is responsible for all the follow up care of that patient. So the audiologist has his/her own patients from the clinic plus follow up care for all those that had been referred elsewhere because the clinic didn’t have enough audiologists! This slows down access for patients within the VA clinic and sends more Vets into the community for services from professionals who are not familiar with the full picture of a veteran’s health or understand the impact of PTSD on patient care like VA Hospital/Clinic staff. Hire the right amount of speciality staff within the VA system, use the facilities to the max, and limit the tax dollars going to for-profit providers. Thank you for “listening”.

  4. Dan F says:

    “A May 15, 2014 analysis of 896,237 pending enrollment records, found that only 216,736 records had an application date; an indicator that the Veteran applied for enrollment in VA’s health care system.”

    Are you freaking kidding? ONLY 216,736 are indicated they applied? That represents about 30,000 vets per VA. Or, if they receive the average amount of medical care it would amount to about 15 Billion dollars.

    Instead of terrible, it is just horrible and your bragging about it? Mind numbing.

    • cinghoa says:

      If you read the entire response, of the 216K, they have processed what they can, now they await the response from the vets. The media is having a hay day making the VA out to be some villainous corporation, intent on killing all who enter; being able to show that some of the reports are bogus or embellished is a good thing. Proving that the reported number is 4 times the actual amount is something to boast about.
      I don’t see the claims as bragging, but usually when a person has something against someone/thing, providing facts is often seen as such. “Are you freaking kidding? ONLY 216,736 are indicated they applied? That represents about 30,000 vets per VA”. According to the VHA page, there were 153 medical centers and around 1400 outpatient clinics, @1550 total patient care facilities. 216,000/1550=139.35…, even if the med centers were the only place capable of processing new vets, 216,000/153=1400.76… far from 30,000 per facility, might want to get that calculator checked.

  5. James Boyne says:

    I have nothing but good things to say about the VA Healthcare System. It is a far cry better and more compassionate than the system run by Corporate Insurance companies whose main goal is to make a profit by purposely limiting, curtailing, and denying medical procedures, surgeries, medication and therapy for injuries and ailments.

    The VA isn’t perfect. You have to be your own advocate and make follow up phone calls to make sure your interests are being addressed in a timely manner (which is what you have to in the “outside world”.

    I called my VA Primary Care physician and got an appointment for the next day for an injured knee. For my Agent Orange prostate cancer my Surgeon was from a top Medical Center. I get checkups every three months on schedule and on time (as long as I ask for them). My medication for ED was provided with professionalism and concern and training.

    When I needed my 200 pages of medical records I drove down to the VA and within 15 minutes had all 200 pages given to me without any hassle.

    My Agent Orange disability has been in the works for 6 months and is about to be completed in a few weeks (I follow its progress online). I also order all my meds online. I make a point to call direct to the specific department when I have a question (I have a list of the proper extension numbers).

    Many VA’s have ER’s and in an emergency any VA can go to any private or public hospital for emergency treatment and then arrange for reimbursement later on, or arrange to get transferred to a VA hospital if they need to so I don’t buy the contention that many veterans have died while waiting for treatment. When you have a true, life threatening health emergency you go to any ER at any hospital—-and figure out the details later.

    I suspect that many veterans are ill, discouraged, uninformed, unable to navigate in this new online computer world and may live many many miles from a VA center that they can’t drive too; and all this creates stories, anecdotes, and also many true unfortunate situations that create many challenges for the VA system.

    The VA system is not perfect. It needs more funding, better management, and more support, encouragement, and constructive criticism from us—the Veterans. It has the potential to be one of the best health care systems in the world.

    I’m a Vietnam veteran drafted in 1968 and served until 1970.

  6. Thank you for this information, now I have the truth.

  7. Robert Lewis says:

    More excuses. Does it come with a machine that blows smoke up your a&&?

  8. Ron Neeley says:

    I was seen in 1999 for a C&P for hearing.
    No one told me that I was a priority group 3 veteran in 2000.
    My friend who is a 100% disabled veteran, kept telling me to go to VA for my health care.
    I finally took his advice and did in 2011. It took Durham VA 3 months to get me a Primary care appointment. But my Primary care doctor has no clue about us Desert Storm veterans. It is very easy to get fed up with her.

    I requested Mental Health through my primary care doctor. After waiting six months, and no word about anything relating to Mental Health appointment. I secure messaged my primary care, to find out what was going on.

    Primary care wrote back this reply. Sorry Mr. Neeley, somehow the request got lost in administrative limbo. We are working on it at this time. Three months later I finally had an appointment. I’m glad I wasn’t suicidal.

    Believe this, the VA system is totally government at its best. Hurry up and wait. 90 percent off the people treat you like they are doing you a favor by doing their job.

    • cinghoa says:

      As far as not being informed about your categorization, that’s an easy fix, go to/call the eligibility desk, create an eBenefits account, call the C&P line.
      Taking 3 months to get an appointment-If you don’t indicate there is an emergent/urgent case, they would not have rushed your enrollment.
      If you are “fed up” with your PCP, you can request a change, or you could attempt to provide literature to educate her on your case, I had to with mine. Just because they are a doc, doesn’t mean they are capable of knowing everything. With all of the new discoveries related to Desert Storm vets, I’m willing to bet you don’t know everything pertaining to C&P cases.
      Waiting 6 months to follow up on your request is lacking on your end, as well. I don’t care for the response from the PCP, but some accountability on your end should be expected.
      “90 percent off the people treat you like they are doing you a favor by doing their job.” Every work environment you go to, public or private, has people that aren’t meant for their job or are short timers, waiting for their retirement. My experience at the VA has been similar to or better than the care I received in private health care facilities.
      90% of the vets that one encounters have such a sense of entitlement that you wonder how they made it through basic training without room service. I love hearing vets spout the “If it weren’t for us vets, you wouldn’t have a job!”, well, if it weren’t for the people they are yelling at, we would all be footing the bill to see a private doc, and hope to see better treatment for the money we would be spending.

  9. Frank D'Aprile says:

    Statistics are always manipulated by the journalists doing the reporting, so that the “facts” support the conclusion they are implying (which is that the VA is the worst organization to be on the planet, ever).

    However, I’ve found that at least one VA (mine) is totally up to date and very efficient. I had only a two week wait to get to see my PCP, and though I had to wait 8 weeks for a specialist appointment (to see a dermatologist for a routine exam), that it fairly normal for anybody that doesn’t have “cadillac” insurance and a high-priced medical practice at their disposal.
    Considering how historically underfunded the VA has been, especially in light of the ballooning veteran population due to the last three unneeded wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq), the VA is doing a good job (the corruption and idiocy of the “paper-patient-lists” notwithstanding). Yes, the VA needs fixing here and there, but what it really needs is more PCP’s and office space, and less idiotic pro-war hawks (who all seem to make money from large wars) sending our young men and women off to maim and kill other young men and women. Small operations and diplomacy would be just as effective as a trillion dollars spent on waging wars.

  10. Robert Mason says:

    The article was not addressing 2014. This facility needs a comprehensive audit by an outside source. Anyone who believes in an internal audit is the same as believing that GM conducted the same and found no problems. Facts, figures, and graphs are only as good as the facility claiming the same. This facility has monumental problems and it starts at the top. Mr Matovski’s comments saying those 47k vets who died is intolerable. In essence he is saying that it was the vets fault for not submitting all the information required. So what happened to these 47k applications? Are there any records indicating that the vet was contacted or is this just another instance of VA hogwash? As a former VA employee I would definately lean towards hogwash. I have seen many things that would make your skin crawl. Do I belive the crap that HEC is putting out? NO!

  11. There is no doubt in my mind that the VA Central Office (VACO) fraud artists are so completely lost in their own deceptions that they are certifiably sociopathic, pathological liars and practiced criminals. It is truly stupefying that any VACO staffer would think that anything they produce as being a verifiable statistic or “fact” would now be acceptable to anyone in the veterans community and the American public. They lie, and lie and lie without end or shame.

    This VA acting CBO must actually believe that there are people out here who will believe her and her VACO CBO crew who literally create these defenses. Ms. Mardon characterizes VA’s undeniable criminal fraud as mere “mistakes.” This is consistent with VA’s demonstrated propensity to create its own definitions of “FACT” and Truth-telling. This reminds me of a criminal defendant charged with passing $50,000 in bad checks who asked the judge if he could pay his fine and court costs from his new checking account — since this time he opted for “overdraft protection.” Trust me, your honor, these new checks will be good.

    These people at VACO, which increased from 800 in the late 1990s to over 11,000 in 2012 (a 1100% jump), seem to have no lack of capacity to project shameless defenses over things that are plainly indefensible.

    The simple remedy for VA is to create a central database that has a copy of all veterans DD-214 discharge form. But that remedy is far too simple since VACO just loves to spend billions on computer programs that crash and burn as soon as they are used for over a month. I see no point in even listening to these people since they will never admit their wrongdoing since to them untimely deaths and serious or permanent health complications or aggravation of existing disabilities is nothing more than a hiccup in the VA scheme of things — and no one should be upset or outraged by it.

  12. Robert Mason says:

    In reply to Frank D’Aprile…Statistics can also be manipulated by the organization in question. In this case the HEC. The original facts and figures were given to the newspaper by employees of the HEC who were able to obtain this information in its original form. The manipulation of the information was done by the management of the HEC in connection with Mr Matovski and Stephanie Marsden (sp) in order to cloud the issue to the vets. It must also be noted that some of the responses to the blog have been removed which is a clear indication of the censureship practiced by the Management of the HEC in order to prevent the truth from being known. How is this known? Several responses by individuals who I know do not show up .

  13. Cupom de Desconto Netshoes says:

    I have nothing but good things to say about the VA Healthcare System. It is a far cry better and more compassionate than the system run by Corporate Insurance companies whose main goal is to make a profit by purposely limiting, curtailing, and denying medical procedures, surgeries, medication and therapy for injuries and ailments.

  14. Kimberly Hughes says:

    VA does not deny the attempt to purge 600,000 pending means test applications so that the Director and Deputy Director could “start fresh” with new FY13 applications. Thankfully, his instructions to deny health care benefits to eligible veterans failed; however, HEC Director, Tony Guagliardo, was quickly REASSIGNED AND REWARDED with a Master’s degree from the Army War College.

  15. Dafiti says:

    Thank you for this information. Great.

  16. Desconto says:

    Thank you for this information. Great