VA Offers Conflicting Accounts of Claims System's 'Spontaneous' Shutdowns

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IG says VBMS issues were reported as recently as August.

Spontaneous” shutdowns and other alleged glitches have not plagued the Veterans Affairs Department’s paperless claims processing system for close to a year, a VA executive told Senators Wednesday, undercutting testimony an official from department’s inspector general’s office gave lawmakers last week.

Such complaints are “dated,” Allison Hickey, VA’s undersecretary for benefits, said Wednesday during a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Last week, Sondra McCauley, VA deputy assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations, told a hearing of the House VA Committee that 25 staffers in the Houston, Newark and Milwaukee regional offices of the Veteran Benefits Administration experienced multiple problems with the $491 million paperless Veterans Benefits Management System or VBMS.

Those staffers “expressed frustration with the system in part because of spontaneous system shutdowns, latency issues related to slow times to download documents such as medical evidence for review, longer times to review electronic evidence, mislabeled electronic evidence, and mixing evidence from one veteran’s electronic file with another veteran’s,” McCauley said.

At the hearing Wednesday, Ranking Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., read this testimony to Hickey and asked, “Is that accurate?” 

Hickey replied: “That is a very dated perception,” from the IG. She “may have heard” about such problems a year ago, but not recently, Hickey added.   

A spokeswoman for the VA IG told Nextgov that the problems with VBMS cited by McCauley last week and by Burr on Wednesday surfaced in reviews conducted between June and August this year at the three VBA regional offices. "The reports were issued in June 2013 (Houston) and August 2013 (Milwaukee and Newark)," IG spokeswoman Catherine A. Gromek said in email.