Veterans Benefits Administration:

Process for Preventing Improper Payments to Deceased Veterans Can Be Improved

GAO-03-906: Published: Jul 24, 2003. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 2003.

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In fiscal year 2002, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) paid about $22.4 billion in disability compensation to over 2.6 million veterans and their survivors and about $3.3 billion in pension benefits to about 581,000 veterans and their survivors. To ensure that VBA makes proper payments under these programs, we reviewed the effectiveness of VBA efforts to prevent payments to deceased veterans by matching its Compensation and Pension (C&P) Master Records database of current beneficiaries with the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Death Master File.

We found a vulnerability in VBA's interagency database matching process that results in improper payments to deceased veterans. Specifically, VBA' process does not identify veterans who died during the application process and were given improper benefit payments after their deaths. In addition, we found that VBA' compensation and pension program staff did not always follow internal control procedures and take action to suspend benefits and recover improper payments based on evidence that a beneficiary had died.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of VBA's efforts to prevent improper payments ot deceased veterans, VBA should instruct the Under Secretary for Benefits to expand VBA's death match process beyond current disability program beneficiaries to include comparing its list of claimants against the individuals listed in Social Security Administration's Master Death File.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs: Veterans Benefits Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), does not intend to act on this recommendation because it would be very expensive to make the necessary systems changes to permit matching against files of veterans whose claims are pending. Further, agency officials do not believe the expense would be warranted by savings resulting from identifying the relatively few veterans who die while a claim is pending and whose survivors conceal the fact from VA.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of VBA's efforts to prevent improper payments ot deceased veterans, VBA should instruct the Under Secretary for Benefits to review the 829 matched cases that were not included in our assessment to (1) determine whether and to what extent these beneficiaries received improper payments after having died and (2) recover improper payments when appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs: Veterans Benefits Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, the VA central office conducted a preliminary analysis and identified 110 of the 829 cases for follow-up investigation. Of these, the VA central office referred 89 active cases to the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) for investigation, and 21 inactive cases with questionable "stop dates" (i.e., dates on which benefits are discontinued) to VA regional offices for follow-up review. While the OIG has not yet concluded its investigations, the regional offices have reported the results of their reviews. Of the 21 cases they reviewed, the regional offices found 14 deceased veterans who received benefits after they had died. These veterans received $46,327 in improper payments. In accordance with VA's policies governing overpayments, the regional offices are seeking reimbursement of improper payments.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of VBA's efforts to prevent improper payments to deceased veterans, VBA should instruct the Under Secretary for Benefits to issue guidance that restates the importance of following internal control procedures and acting on evidence that a beneficiary may have died to ensure that VBA's compensation and pension program staff are fully complying with the agency's internal control procedures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs: Veterans Benefits Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Central Office in November 2003 distributed a Fast Letter (#03-43) to all VA regional offices restating the importance of taking action on the write-outs and control lists sent as a result of the "Death Match," conducted with the Social Security Administration.

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