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Did Contractor Drop the Ball on VA Benefits?

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Norfolk, VARetired service personal in dire need of VA benefits would not be cheered by the allegation that a contractor hired to review the cases of thousands of Vietnam veterans for exposure to Agent Orange may have denied benefits in spite of obvious need, all because the contractor was less than thorough in reviewing cases, or so it has been alleged.

Successfully securing VA disability benefits is usually a tough go at the best of times, given that the Department of Veterans Affairs (The VA) is backlogged and the appeals process is fraught with delays that could last years.

To provide context, The Virginian-Pilot (4/2/16) reports that an ongoing class-action VA lawsuit - Nehmer v. The Department of Veterans Affairs - requires The VA to review previous claims put forward by veterans when new illnesses are linked to Agent Orange exposure.

Now, contractual and case documents related to an unsealed lawsuit obtained by the McClatchy News Service alleges that a contractor hired to prescreen case files for evidence of illness related to Agent Orange exposure was lax in its screening process, or so it is alleged.

QTC Medical Services is the defendant in the unsealed lawsuit. The contractor, a division of Lockheed Martin, was hired to conduct the prescreening on some 160,000 files. According to contractual documents obtained by McClatchy News Service, QTC is accused of spending no more than a few minutes on each file - in spite of earning $300 for every file reviewed under two inches in thickness, and $350 for every file exceeding two inches in thickness.

The plaintiff in the unsealed lawsuit against QTC suggests that not only were reviewers improperly trained to spot illness related to Agent Orange, he also alleges that reviewers were pressured to work so rapidly that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to conduct a thorough review.

Agent Orange is an experimental herbicide that was deployed during the Vietnam War to curb the thick foliage associated with the region. It was deployed without prior testing or gauging its impact on the health of service personnel exposed to it. Not only does Agent Orange hold a place in American folklore, it is also the source for many a VA lawsuit by service personnel battling grievous health problems thought to be associated with that exposure.

Now, a powerful US House Committee is investigating.

“This lawsuit raises a number of serious questions,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said in a statement to McClatchy. “Every veteran’s VA claim deserves a thorough and objective review. Our investigation will continue until we are satisfied that’s the case in this situation.”

According to the McClatchy News Service report carried by the Virginian-Pilot out of Norfolk, QTC reviewed 65,000 files for evidence of ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and hairy cell leukemia, all potentially linked to herbicide exposure in Vietnam, as well as 95,000 files for peripheral neuropathy. It should be noted that with the minimum fee of $300 per file, QTC would have earned a minimum of $48 million dollars for the work, and probably more.

Nonetheless, the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), which brought the class-action lawsuit against the VA, told McClatchy that since 2010 the advocacy group had identified in excess of 1,600 cases in which The VA failed to recognize and pay retroaction VA compensation related to an illness claim associated with Agent Orange exposure.

The veteran’s benefits lawsuit against QTC was brought by a former claims file analyst. However, David Vatan’s lawsuit failed on the basis that he had no knowledge of the contract, and therefore could not judge on whether or not QTC was fulfilling its contractual obligations given there was no contractual information available against which to gauge compliance. The VA lawsuit was dismissed.

McClatchy was able to obtain the contract and other contractual documents with a request through the Freedom of Information Act. The internal company documents revealed the true context of the review process for future disabled veterans benefits.

“If the contract or QTC did not ensure a process that was compliant with the Nehmer Court Orders,” said Barton Stichman, executive director of the NVLSP, in comments to McClatchy, “then the cases that were not flagged by QTC would have to be reviewed again.”

It is not known if QTC would be required to review the files again, on its own dime, while deserving veterans and service personnel continue to wait for needed VA disability benefits…

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READER COMMENTS

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I am 30 % disabled VA Vietnam Veteran, also had a heart transplant do to Vietnam Service which calls for 100 % but that's on an appeal. All this stuff is B/S to me

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