Agent Orange benefit screening process scrutinized in Congress

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Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 2:23 PM

A contractor that pre-screens veteran files for proof of those illnesses frequently spent just minutes reviewing each file, internal company documents show.

Agent Orange benefit screening process scrutinized in Congress

The is looking into whether a contractor thoroughly reviewed the files of Vietnam veterans who might deserve benefits for illnesses linked to exposure to Agent Orange.

A contractor that pre-screens veteran files for proof of those illnesses frequently spent just minutes reviewing each file, internal company documents show.

The contractor, , reviewed files for 160.000 veterans. They were paid approximately $300 for every file reviewed under two inches thick and $350 for files more than two inches thick.

An unsealed lawsuit and contract documents obtained by McClatchy shed light on the contractor’s pre-screening process.

The suit alleges that QTC — a Lockheed Martin company — didn't give their employees the required training to spot proof of illnesses linked to Agent Orange and pressured employees to work at a pace that made it impossible to thoroughly review the file.

“This lawsuit raises a no of serious questions,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, in a statement to McClatchy. “Every veteran’s VA claim deserves a thorough and objective review. Our investigation will continue until we're satisfied that’s the case in this situation.”

QTC Medical Services and Lockheed Martin, citing ongoing litigation, declined to comment.

Agent Orange benefits are a emotional target for the . An ongoing class-action lawsuit — Nehmer v. Dept of Veterans Affairs — requires the VA to review elderly veteran claims when new illnesses are linked to Agent Orange exposure.

That gives veterans who were previously denied benefits an updated review.

QTC reviewed 65.000 files for ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s sickness and hairy cell leukemia potentially linked to herbicide exposure in Vietnam, as well as 95.000 files for peripheral neuropathy. Only the files flagged by QTC as potentially eligible were sent back to the VA for a final decision.

The , who filed the class-action suit, told McClatchy that since two thousand ten, they’ve identified more than 1.600 cases in which the VA failed to recognize and pay the required retroactive Agent Orange compensation, resulting in an extra million being paid to veterans and their survivors.

Barton Stichman, NVLSP’s joint executive director, said they're paying near attention to the allegations against QTC to look if pre-screening is where veterans are falling through the cracks.

“If the contract or QTC didn't ensure a process that was compliant with the Nehmer Ct Orders, then the cases that weren't flagged by QTC would've to be reviewed again.” Stichman said.

The lawsuit against QTC, brought by former claims file analyst David Vatan, was on grounds that Vatan didn't know the terms of the contract, so whatever proof he presented about how QTC performed the reviews, he couldn't prove the company misrepresented its work. Vatan and his attorneys have appealed.

McClatchy obtained the with QTC through a Freedom of Information Act request.

QTC’s contract the company should train its employees before they review files for Agent Orange-related conditions based on a guide provided by the VA. Vatan’s lawsuit alleges he and other analysts weren't formally trained and were never given the .

Instead, analysts were given a “” from QTC that omits much of the background information on relevant medical conditions included in the VA’s guide, as well as details about what supporting proof for benefit eligibility might see love in a veteran’s file.

The contract also states that QTC each veteran’s entire file.

But QTC’s reference guide analysts to abbreviate the process, using summaries of prior benefit decisions printed on colored sheets of paper.

QTC’s senior vice president of operations, Dr. Margie Shahani, to Congress in two thousand-eighth that it'd get a qualified analyst sixty to ninety minutes to review each claim file, an equivalent of seven or eight files per day.

Internal documents indicate QTC’s analysts worked much faster below a competetive performance rating system. Some analysts nearly thirty claims per day and those who reviewed fewer than twelve to fifteen were for poor performance.

In the response to Vatan’s complaint, Lockheed Martin’s lawyers argued the contract didn't spell out how much time they should spend on each file. “There is nothing inherently incorrect with QTC encouraging people to work quickly,” the motion reads.

When one of his colleagues reported reviewing fifty files in a day, Vatan to a Lockheed Martin ethics officer. Vatan pointed out that fifty files a day would leave the analyst just twelve minutes per file if he or she worked two hours of overtime and took number breaks. “It takes 10-12 minutes for an experienced (analyst) to process one file in the computer system alone,” Vatan said. “How was the review conducted?’

Both the Dept of Justice and the VA Office of the Inspector Common investigated the allegations in the lawsuit, but neither chose to intervene and neither would comment on their investigation.

In monetary year two thousand fifteen, QTC’s various contracts with the Dept of Veterans Affairs exceeded $175 million.

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