American Legion Deputy Director of Claims Services Greg Nembhard testified Nov. 29 before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.
Nembhard’s testimony focused on reports published by Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) on unwarranted medical examination for disability benefits, processing inaccuracies involving veterans’ intent to file submissions for benefits and trauma, denied post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims related to military sexual trauma (MST), and The American Legion’s System Worth Saving program. The VAOIG reports cite inaccuracies, inadequate training, lack of specialization and poor quality of VA examinations done by contracted medical examiners.
“The American Legion wants to protect veterans from these, and other inadequacies, and urge the VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) to take swift corrective action," Nembhard testified. “We believe that a variety of factors cause these shortfalls. Including a lack of funding, understaffed VA facilities, and contracting companies solely focused on their bottom line —at the veterans’ expense.”
VA often denies victims of MST benefits based on a claim of PTSD — despite MST being a cause of PTSD — because they cannot produce evidence of the assault. MST victims often do not report the assault for varying reasons including “concerns about negative implications for performance reports, worries about punishment for collateral misconduct, and the perception of an unresponsive military chain of command.”
A total of 169 MST-related claims that were denied were reviewed. The review concluded the VBA did not correctly process veterans’ denied MST-related claims in 82 of 169 cases. VAOIG estimated 1,300 of 2,700 MST-related claims denied were processed incorrectly during the review period.
“Veterans should not experience additional harm in the process — especially when processing MST-related claims,” Nembhard said. “Finding ways to ensure these veterans receive the services they deserve is one of the highest priorities of The American Legion.
"The growing diversity of veterans means that a system which primarily provided care to male enrollees must now evolve — and adapt — to meet the needs of all veterans and to provide them the best possible care.”
The mission of The American Legion's System Worth Saving program is to “assess the quality and timeliness of veterans’ health care, the claims process at VA Regional Offices (VARO), and provide feedback from veterans about the care and services offered.” Reports from these site visits are then compiled into a publication that is distributed to the president, members of Congress and VA officials.
“We believe in quality of care at VA facilities, we remain committed to a strong VA, and we believe that VA is a system worth saving,” Nembhard said.
The American Legion “remains committed to a VA that is appropriately funded, staffed, trained and empowered to conduct internal quality reviews and oversight,” he concluded.