Federal review finds errors at Anchorage veterans office

Posted: Sunday, January 31, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Federal inspectors gave the Anchorage Veterans Administration regional office a poor review for its handling of disability claims - a 29 percent error rate.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that has resulted in delays, underpayments and denials of services for some veterans.

Office supervisors say they are well on the way toward fixing the problems identified in last year's inspection.

Alaska had the highest number of veterans per capita of any state as of the last census, at nearly 18 percent of the population.

The VA Benefits Administration decides whether a veteran qualifies for monthly compensation - often several hundred dollars per month - for disabilities that first occurred or were aggravated during military service. They include post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes and traumatic brain injury.

The system nationwide has been overwhelmed in recent years with an influx of claims from veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, plus aging veterans of Vietnam. But problems in the Anchorage regional office exceed the norm, according to Willie C. Clark Sr., western area director of the Veterans Benefits Administration in Phoenix, whose purview includes Alaska.

Clark is among the VA directors and managers following up on the inspector general's report issued Dec. 7, and he visited the Anchorage office this month to check on progress.

In response to questions from the Daily News, Clark said the Anchorage office suffered from turnover in key positions during the past year, and its performance doesn't "currently compare favorably" to other regional offices.

The Anchorage office is directed remotely by the head of the Salt Lake City VA Regional Office. The position for an onsite manager went unfilled for eight months, until May.

The inspectors said lack of an onsite manager contributed to the quality gaps, and that training that should have taken place for staffers didn't happen much of the time.

Clark believes the Anchorage office is improving.

"The Anchorage performance has greatly improved over the past several months and is on track to have a very good performance year in 2010."

Tammy Schuyler, president of the AFGE Local 3028 union that represents Alaska VA workers, says significant problems have yet to been resolved.

She said the office is still understaffed and lacks training.

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