The OIG reviewed the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) processing of mail and benefit claims during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the review team examined whether VBA staff documented the date of receipt for benefits-related correspondence as required by new guidance during the national state of emergency and continued mail operations at VA facilities to ensure benefit claims were processed. Based on its sample analysis, the OIG found VBA staff did not properly apply date of receipt documentation guidance for an estimated 98 percent of 3,200 claims established from April 7 through April 20, 2020. The date of receipt is important because it may be used to establish when veterans become entitled to benefit payments. Veterans could be underpaid if staff record an incorrect date of receipt. However, VBA staff were not always aware of all aspects of documentation guidance and had not received training on it. VBA staff did continue to process mail received at VA facilities, with the postal service forwarding all regional office mail to a scanning facility starting March 31, 2020. Offices that did not have mail automatically forwarded were to have staff available to process incoming mail. The team surveyed regional office staff and found that the majority of regional offices used these methods to continue mail operations. Representatives from veterans service organizations also confirmed that mail operations continued at their offices in Detroit and Los Angeles, where they are colocated with VBA staff. VBA concurred with the OIG’s three recommendations to: (1) ensure VBA staff understand date of receipt guidance for claims received during the pandemic and implement those actions; (2) make certain that claims received and completed from March 1, 2020, had the correct date of entitlement; and (3) evaluate existing guidance for recording the date of receipt for claims without a postmark.
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Agency Reviewed / Investigated:
Submitting OIG-Specific Report Number:
Component, if applicable:
Veterans Benefits Administration
Type of Report:
Number of Recommendations: