VA Fast Track process rife with gaps for possible fraud, OIG says
The Veterans Affairs Department’s “Fast Track” disability claims process introduced in October 2010 is riddled with opportunities for fraud and immediate action should be taken to strengthen controls over the process, according to a new report from the Office of Inspector General.
The VA rushed the new process into place and has begun making monthly payments to claimants without verifying basic information such as the veterans’ addresses and bank accounts, Belinda Finn, assistant inspector general for audits and investigations, wrote in the Feb. 23 report.
The current Fast Track process also does not require the VA to verify whether the information submitted by physicians is authentic and unaltered, the report said.
The chief means of fraud protection under the current process is to verify information in about 100 cases per month or 1,200 a year—but those reviews only occur after payments have started and do not prevent fraud from occurring, Finn wrote.
“The expedited rollout of the Disability Benefits Questionnaire process did not provide adequate time to design, evaluate, and implement appropriate controls over the process,” Finn concluded in her report.
“Since VA has released Disability Benefits Questionnaires for public use, and transactions are currently being processed using Disability Benefits Questionnaire forms as medical evidence; we believe immediate action is needed to put internal controls in place to help detect and prevent fraud,” she wrote.
VA officials defended the process, saying the verifications of 1,200 cases a year exceeded what had been done under the previous paperwork process. “Veterans Benefits Administration was proactive in instituting this review although it is an additional protection that previously did not exist for non-electronic medical reports,” Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits, wrote in a response. She nonetheless agreed with the inspector general that more needs to be done.
The Fast Track system was designed for Vietnam veterans claiming benefits on the basis of being diagnosed with one of several medical conditions related to Agent Orange.
Information was not available in the report on how many Fast Track claims have been processed to date, how many veterans are now receiving payments based on Fast Track, what is the total amount of paid benefits per year, and what fraud has been identified, if any. However, the VA previously had said that 28,000 claims were processed in the first three months of Fast Track.
The inspector general made five recommendations for improvement, and the VA generally agreed with the recommendations.
“After lengthy discussions with Veterans Benefits Administration management to review the differing aspects over the controls for the expanded use of Disability Benefits Questionnaires, the Under Secretary for Benefits generally agreed with our findings and recommendations. OIG initiated the audit to provide proactive assistance to an expanding claims process already at an increased risk to potential fraud and abuse,” Finn wrote in the report.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.