Veterans Affairs leaders on Monday acknowledged that more than 120,000 veterans who attempted to use department online platforms to file for benefits in recent years were stonewalled by technical problems, a total nearly 35% larger than previously reported.
Officials said they are still working to correct those errors and process those claims as quickly as possible. But House lawmakers raised concerns about the scope of the problems, some of which date back more than a decade.
“Mistakes are bound to happen,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s panel on technology, during a hearing on the topic on Monday. “But it’s unacceptable that some of these errors persisted for years before anyone discovered them.”
In late August, VA officials announced that roughly 32,000 disability claims had been lost in the VA.gov computer systems for several months or years. Two weeks later, department leaders found 57,000 more lost cases, most involving veterans who tried to add or remove dependents on existing disability claims.
On Monday, Veterans Affairs Chief Information Officer Kurt DelBene said that further reviews have found about 81,000 dependency claims misdirected within the computer system, as well as several thousand other cases in other categories.
He promised fixes as quickly as possible.
“VA.gov is the digital front door, and veterans need to have confidence and trust that their benefits and services are available, accurate, and secure,” he said.
About 26,500 of the outstanding dependency cases have now been processed and completed, and 22,500 of the outstanding disability claims finished, he said.
The department’s VA.gov site fields more than 14 million inquiries each month. VA staffers have blamed the past mistakes on software errors compounded by a lack of regular monitoring for potential problems.
While individuals whose cases were processed late can be eligible for retroactive payouts back to the original date they tried to file, the delay of months or years for those cases to be processed could have caused significant financial hardship for some veterans and their families.
Rosendale said he intends to file new legislation forcing closer oversight of the online benefits systems to avoid similar problems in the future.
“We all need to be confident that errors in VA.gov and other systems will never again be allowed to compound undetected and impact so many people,” he said.
Meanwhile, DelBene said he hopes the department will be able to process most of the remaining unaddressed cases before the end of the month.
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.