House Republicans on Tuesday called for employee discipline and potential firings after the discovery that tens of thousands of veterans’ disability cases were lost for months or years in the Department of Veterans Affairs claims systems due to software glitches.
“VA.gov has gaps, and veterans are falling into them,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., who chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on technology, during a hearing Tuesday. “This is a situation where the VA is badly in need of independent oversight.”
In August, VA leaders announced they had found roughly 32,000 veterans’ disability claims delayed — some dating back years — due to technical flaws in the department’s VA.gov filing systems. Two weeks later, officials acknowledged 57,000 more similarly delayed cases involving veterans trying to add dependents to their accounts.
In all of the cases, VA officials pledged to backdate veterans’ pay as soon as possible. But the mistakes may have delayed potentially thousands of dollars in monthly payouts to individuals suffering from military-related illnesses or injuries.
Veterans Affairs Chief Information Officer Kurt DelBene noted that the errors represent a small fraction of the more than seven million cases filed since early 2018, but he also acknowledged that any mistake that causes financial harm to veterans is unacceptable.
“VA will resolve these issues, prevent them from happening again, and address them more quickly when needed,” he told lawmakers. “And most importantly, we’ll make sure that all impacted veterans get the benefits and services that they deserve as quickly as possible.”
But several lawmakers said those promises aren’t enough.
“I think we have a problem with addressing the major issues in leadership and officials not being held accountable for things that they do or do not do in upholding their responsibilities to veterans,” said Rep. Morgan Luttrell, R-Texas. “My concern is that no one is holding [anyone] responsible for this.”
DelBene said leadership is pressing for fixes and improvements to the system, but not with the threat of mass firings. Officials from the department said that work will include better oversight systems to ensure that similar problems in the future are quickly caught, preventing problems from compounding over months or years.
Earlier this month, in a letter to VA leadership, committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., lamented the problems as “just the latest in a string of electronic filing issues that continue to plague the department.”
Such problems include ongoing issues with the department’s 10-year, $16-billion effort to overhaul its electronic health records system, which has been delayed by technical issues for months.
VA officials at Tuesday’s hearings promised regular updates to the committee on their proposed fixes in the coming weeks. Rosendale said he expects to hold more hearings on the issue in the months ahead.
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.