VA Moves to Prevent Veteran Violence Over Disability Claims

Sgt. Randall A. Clinton/Marine Corps New York

Veterans Affairs officials want to change when veterans can view some of their medical records online, fearing that some could become violent if they see negative comments and think their disability claims will be denied.

Veterans must get a medical exam as part of the process for filing a disability claim for a service-related injury. Within days or weeks of the exam, veterans can see the doctor's forms or notes by using the "Blue Button" on My HealtheVet, the VA's website for health records.

A group of department officials said Monday that they fear some veterans could see the notes from the exam, assume from this partial picture that their claim is being denied, and take out their anger on local VA officials. They voiced their safety concerns Monday to members of the department's Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation at their meeting this week in Washington.

"He walks past the [compensation-and-pension] clinic, and he's very angry. Goes into the C-and-P clinic, and we have an incident of some kind," said Gerald Cross, the chief officer in the Veterans Health Administration's office of disability and medical assessment. "Some of our C-and-P clinics are quite small, … and it doesn't have much in the way of reasonable defense. We're very concerned about that."

Patricia Murray, the director of the VA's clinical program and administrative operations, said that to try to prevent any misunderstandings, the VA is removing the compensation-and-pension medical exam from a veteran's online health record until after a decision on his or her disability claim has been made.

"I think sometimes when they see [the medical records], they think the determination to grant [benefits] is solely based on the C-and-P file," she said, adding that "our examiners feel like they're sometimes at risk."

But some committee members were concerned about removing the compensation-and-pension exam records, but not other health documents, from the website.

"I hate to say this, but what is the ethical justification of removing the C-and-P exams from the Blue Button?" asked Michael Simberkoff, executive chief of staff at the VA's NY Harbor Healthcare System.

But department officials tied the move to one factor: Potential risk to VA staffers. In addition to changing when a veteran can see part of his or her file online, they are also considering adding extra security to the clinics, such as requiring a code to unlock doors.

"Many of the C-and-P docs are females, and they seem to be the ones that seem to have the evening hours or are in these far-flung [clinics]," said Denny Devine, the VA's project executive for disability and medical assessments. "Those are the ones on our weekly calls raising these concerns."

The VA received more than 1 million requests for disability exams during fiscal 2014. It has almost 527,500 pay and pension claims currently waiting to be decided, with more than 46 percent—or 244,727—waiting more than 125 days for a decision.

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