VA saga: Computer glitch caused vets' health insurance enrollment delay

A Department of Veteran Affairs' (VA) computer glitch has led to nearly 35,000 combat veterans being denied the ability to sign up for health insurance.

Internal documents obtained by the Huffington Post show that the VA erroneously flagged the veterans' applications as missing a means test, which is used to assess household income. While some veterans need to complete this form, combat vets are not required to provide such information, as they are automatically eligible for five years of free coverage.

"The VA has created an illegal, artificial barrier for people to access care," said Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA's Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta who provided the documents to the news outlet. "We're not talking about people who didn't get care because they didn't want it. We're talking about people who turned in applications and VA said, 'No, go into a backlog because you didn't give us financial information.'"

VA officials have known about the error since at least April, the article reports. Last month, the VA issued a "change request" and created a computer script to "automatically complete a means test" for all pending combat vets.

However, there's been no progress since the change request was issued. Additionally, the VA is telling combat vets they must fill out forms agreeing to co-pays before they can be enrolled; they've already agreed to co-pays in their original applications.

Davis has a solution to combat the issue, he tells the news outlet. Simply go into the computer system, gather the Social Security numbers of combat vets listed as pending, and tell the system they are enrolled immediately.

In response to the mishap, VA spokeswoman Walinda West said the agency is "taking steps to contact and/or enroll these applicants as quickly as possible to ensure all appropriate action is taken and resolved to the satisfaction of those veterans for whom we are honored to serve."

The recent saga comes nearly one year after reports of long waitlists and coverups of care delays rocked the VA. The agency has struggled in the aftermath to address these issues, and has seen some degree of success with measures such as staff expansion and hours extensions, FierceHealthcare has reported.  

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