Report Summary

Title: Atlanta VA Health Care System’s Unopened Mail Backlog with Patient Health Information and Community Care Provider Claims
Report Number: 21-03916-103 Download
Issue Date: 4/27/2022
VA Office: Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
Report Author: Office of Audits and Evaluations
Report Type: Review
Release Type: Unrestricted

In September 2021, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported on large quantities of unopened mail being stored in the warehouse basement of the VA medical facility in Atlanta. The OIG conducted a review that found the Atlanta VA Health Care System (HCS) had formed a task force to open, sort, and process stacks of mail reportedly piled as high as 10 feet and dating back at least 10 months. When opened, the 17,660 pieces of mail contained medical records, claims, nearly $207,000 in checks, and correspondence from veterans.

The mail backlog began accruing after a November 2020 verbal agreement between Atlanta VA HCS officials and VHA’s Payment Operations and Management (POM) personnel. The agreement called for POM staff to vacate space in a building leased by the medical facility where POM was processing mail if Atlanta VA HCS personnel took over the responsibility for processing that mail.

The OIG determined that VA should have established a formal agreement clearly detailing each office’s responsibilities. VA HCS leaders did not include responsible managers in decision making discussions and lacked a clear understanding of the volume of mail processing work they were accepting. Atlanta VA HCS did not ensure mailroom staff were adequately prepared or trained to handle or sort the influx of mail, and POM officials were later reluctant to help, citing the verbal agreement.

Given the mail mismanagement in Atlanta, VHA should ascertain the effects the mail processing delays had on veterans and community care providers and take corrective action. Because POM is implementing similar transitions at sites across the country, POM and medical facilities need to ensure there is adequate staff with sufficient training to handle the mail processing workload. VA concurred with the OIG’s five recommendations.