Investigation reveals "inappropriate" actions at VA regional office

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - A new report about the VA regional office in Roanoke is sparking controversy.

The inspector general released the report after investigating complaints made by an anonymous source regarding appeals.

According to the source, newer appeals are being processed before older appeals.

The report reveals almost 13,000 veterans at the Salem VA have pending appeals. Now, veterans are demanding answers.

John Cooper, a spokesperson for the group Concerned Veterans of America, said the public needs more answers.

"There needs to be accountability and there needs to be transparency in regards to what is being done into not only making sure that this doesn't happen again, but what is being done at the Roanoke office to make sure that for veterans who are currently stuck in the system, that their claims are going to be processed," said Cooper.

The director of the regional office Keith Wilson said  it's placing more tenured staff members on the appeals team. He said they've hired 11 more positions to help with the process.

"We've gone from 22 people to 33 people so it's a 50 percent increase in the number of bodies that we have on appeals," Wilson said. "That's a wonderful thing obviously. The best thing about that is that it lessons that situations where we are providing services to veteran A over veteran B, or veteran B over veteran A. We are more able to provide services to all of the veterans," said Wilson.

The report includes a response from Wilson.

"The Southeast District always strives to improve service delivery and customer service to our nation's Veterans. It is important to note that there is an important distinction between RO processing of Appeals and the way that the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) is required to work appeals in docket order. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, the Southeast District challenged it's Regional Offices (ROs) to improve the timeliness of their Appeals output for the Veterans served in the District. The District Office provided best practices from ROs that had been successful in improving their timeliness in Appeals. While Roanoke did process newer appeals, it also balanced this with processing older appeals. As shown in the data on page 4 of the OIG draft report, the Roanoke RO only processed 171 fewer appeals that were over 1 year old in FY14 (when under the Appeals NOD reduction plan) than they did the prior year (FY13). In total, the Roanoke RO served 844 more Veterans in FY14 than they did in FY13. The Southeast District appeals reduction plan was a short term plan to continue a focus on appeals during the year of reducing the rating backlog. The following comments are submitted in response to the recommendation in the OIG draft report: OIG Recommendation 1: We recommended that the Roanoke VA Regional Office Director ensure that leadership and appeals staff follow the workload management plan to prioritize work based on the appeals pending the longest. Roanoke RO Response: Concur. The VA Roanoke Regional Office has ensured that the leadership and appeals staff are following the workload "management plan to prioritize work based on the appeals pending the longest. Subsequent to OIG's inspection, on August 20, 2015, the Roanoke VA Regional Office implemented a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for processing workload on the appeals team. The SOP provides guidance for individual and team workload processing appeals that have been pending the longest. A copy of the SOP is being provided for your reference (attached*). In addition, since the OIG's inspection the Roanoke VA Regional Office has added an additional 11 personnel to process the appeals workload. Those additional resources are focused on working the oldest appeals in the various stages focusing on the FY16 Appeals goals in the Director's Performance Plan. We request closure of this recommendation based on the evidence provided."

Wilson went on to say that he has an efficient staff that is also made up of veterans themselves.

He said they are proud of the work that they do.

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