U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, in a letter to embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, expressed her disappointment at file management problems discovered at the Veterans Benefits Administration St. Petersburg Regional Office, which has more than 21,000 pending benefits claims considered backlogged.
A March inspection by the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Office of Inspector General found a file room overfilled with records, lost and misfiled records that became a major issue, mishandled mail and a three-week delay in processing evidence mail received from the mailroom.
Castor, reacting to a story about the OIG findings first reported by The Tampa Tribune, has long been concerned about problems at the St. Petersburg office.
“I have urged your office numerous times over the past few years to rectify the problems at the Veterans Benefits Administration St. Petersburg Regional Office,” Castor wrote in the letter to Shinseki dated Tuesday.
Though the office has made progress, reducing the number of pending claims over 125 days by 41 percent, Castor, D-Tampa, told Shinseki that “veterans still wait too long to receive the benefits they have earned.”
The St. Petersburg office is the nation’s busiest claims processing center and covers all of Florida. The inspection was part of the Office of Inspector General’s ongoing “Audit of VBA’s Efforts to Effectively Obtain Service Treatment Records and Official Military Personnel Files,” according to the interim report.
In response, Veterans Benefits Administration officials said they have since addressed two of three recommended changes and are working on the third. The interim report acknowledges that two of its three concerns were addressed and have been closed out.
Calling the IOG’s findings “inexcusable,” Castor told Shinseki that, “It should not have taken an interim audit to resolve these two issues.”
To address the unresolved concern, the St. Petersburg office “was given authority to retire 100,000 claims folders to the VBA Records Management Center and hire 20 temporary file clerks to support this effort,” regional office officials responded in the interim report. “The first shipment of 50,000 files will be sent to the RMC by July 3, and the remaining 50,000 files will arrive by Aug. 1. This file relocation, along with the natural progression of files being shipped to the scanning vendor, will alleviate the file storage issues.”
Castor told Shinseki she expects notification when the final issue is resolved.
Officials from the VA and the regional office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Castor’s letter.