HONOLULU (AP) — A supervisor at the Veterans Administration office in Honolulu was manipulating data to make it look like the agency was processing veterans’ benefits claims faster than they actually were, according to a new report by the VA Office of Inspector General.
The data manipulation happened last year when there was heightened scrutiny nationwide over how long veterans were waiting to see doctors.
The electronic records altered in Honolulu dealt with benefits claims, not medical appointments. But the finding underscores that there are ongoing problems within the system.
The Honolulu supervisor was removing controls in the electronic record that are used to track and identify the progress of claims.
“It made his performance measures for his team look better than they actually were,” said Brent Arronte, director of the San Diego Benefits Inspection Division of the VA Office of Inspector General.
Those data manipulations resulted in delays for the delivery of benefits to veterans, including benefits like payments for dependents, Arronte said.
There has been no indication that the manipulation was particularly widespread, but it wasn’t unique. “We haven’t seen this at all 57 regional offices, we have seen it at a few. I think four additional ones aside from Honolulu,” he said.
The Hawaii investigation was originally prompted by the Honolulu VA Regional Office, which asked the inspectors to review 147 cases from April through August 2014 in which they believed the supervisor had removed the controls used to track claims. The inspectors reviewed 139 of those — because the others were located at a different facility — and found that the supervisor inappropriately manipulated the records in 100 of the cases, a rate of about 72 percent.
The Office of Inspector General then reviewed another 48 cases which they selected at random, and found that the supervisor had removed the controls in 43 claims — nearly 90 percent of those records.
Each claim corresponds to an individual person, so there were 143 veterans known to be affected, although the extent of the impact wasn’t yet known, Arronte said. Since 90 percent of the randomly selected records were manipulated, the actual number of affected veterans could be much higher.
Elisa Smithers, a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard and veteran of combat tours in Iraq and Kuwait, said she knows soldiers in Hawaii who are having issues with benefit delays. But her experiences with the VA system have improved since the summer, when she and others testified about problems getting medical care.
The inspectors recommended that the Honolulu regional office review the problematic cases, and the regional office agreed, the report said.
“If anybody was harmed they’re going to fix it,” Arronte said.
The supervisor in question has since resigned, the report said. A representative from the VA Regional Office in Honolulu wasn’t immediately available for comment.