Disabled vets overpaid by nearly $1 billion

Since 1993, the Veterans Business Administration (VBA) overpaid veterans $943 million in benefits awarded under its 100 percent temporary disability rating. This fact was reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General, which noted that without timely action, VBA "would overpay veterans a projected $1.1 billion over the next five years." An audit of two VA regional offices also found that half of the evaluations reviewed for temporary disability benefits were incorrect.

The report was highlighted at a Feb. 5 hearing by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs, chaired by Rep. John Runyan, R-N.J. Panelists included Linda Halliday, VA assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations, and Diana Rubens, VBA’s deputy under secretary for field operations.

Veterans can receive a 100 percent temporary disability rating if they need surgery, treatment or recovery periods for service-connected conditions. In many cases, veterans are not re-evaluated and return to a lesser disability rating. They also continue to receive unearned benefits.

Another serious problem that arises for those overpaid veterans is once they return to their correct disability ratings, they often must pay back the extra benefits and suffer the resulting financial burden.

Halliday told the subcommittee that "VBA has not been aggressive, timely or thorough in completing its national review" of such overpayments. "While electronic system fixes may resolve some issues, they do little to address the problem we continue to find with staff error in processing."

Taking issue with Halliday’s assessment, Rubens defended VBA, saying it "has already taken significant corrective actions ... to ensure temporary 100 percent ratings are effectively monitored and adjusted." Such actions include case reviews, software changes, mandatory training, increased oversight and technology enhancements.

Rubens acknowledged that VBA’s "regional offices have not yet completed action on all of the individual cases requiring review." She said VBA would continue monitoring the cases and work with VAOIG to ensure timely and accurate benefit payments to veterans.