VA overpaid $1.3 billion in benefits because too busy with first-time claims backlog

President Barack Obama speaks during the National Veterans Day Observance ceremony at Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2015. Obama praised current budget levels for the Department of Veterans Affairs, but also said there is more work to be done to solve the issues of veteran homelessness and the backlog of VA disability claims. (Photo by Spc. Brandon C. Dyer)

Veterans Affairs has paid over 100 million dollars in benefits to veterans who should not have received them because it was too focused on reducing the first-time claim backlog.

Veterans who have been incarcerated for more than sixty days are only eligible for compensation benefits equal to a 10 percent disability rating (for those already at 10 percent, it drops to 5 percent).

According to a report from the VA inspector general, veterans who were imprisoned in recent years were overpaid by more than $100 million and the number is expected to rise to $200 million in the next four years.

Officials from the Veterans Benefits Administration said the problem lies with incomplete information from the Bureau of Prisons, Military Times reported.

“We do not get the date of incarceration from (the Bureau of Prisons),” said Beth Murphy, the director of the Veteran Benefits Administration compensation service.

“We have to follow up on this. There are manual processes and time lags in getting this information,” she told members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

Veterans become eligible for their full benefits after they are released from incarceration.

According to the report, investigators estimate almost $60 million in overpayments to veterans in federal prisons from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2015, and another $44 million to veterans in state and local jails in 2013 and 2014.

“The veterans who received these overpayments have committed crimes, but the overpayments are not their fault,” said Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on disability assistance. “Nothing excuses VA for failing to do its job.”

The overpayment issue for incarcerated veterans makes up a small portion of the total estimated improper payments made by the VA. The VA Inspector General reports estimated total improper payments for all veterans benefits programs totaled more than $1.3 billion in fiscal 2015.

Murphy said incarcerated veterans make up less than 1 percent of the overall population of individuals receiving VA benefits

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