Report Summary

Title: Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry Exam Process Needs Improvement
Report Number: 21-02732-153 Download
Issue Date: 7/21/2022
VA Office: Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
Report Author: Office of Audits and Evaluations
Report Type: Review
Release Type: Unrestricted

Since 1990, some 3.5 million veterans have served in areas that potentially exposed them to airborne hazards and open burn pit toxins, which have been associated with health problems. In 2013, Congress ordered VA to establish a registry to research the potential health impacts of exposures. The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed the management of registry exams, including whether VA medical facilities conducted them within the 90-day prescribed period.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) began collecting and recording data in the registry in May 2014 through an online questionnaire and free in-person exams. The OIG found many veterans did not complete the 140-item questionnaire, which is not clear and veteran-centric. Veterans also did not always realize they were responsible for scheduling their own exams.

Improvements in the registry exam process would help ensure more eligible and interested veterans receive them. VHA plans to establish a call center to assume some of the scheduling and coordination responsibilities by October 2022. This is well-timed given the number of veterans indicating they would like an exam has further increased since August 2021, when VA established a presumptive “service connection” for respiratory conditions due to exposure to particulate matter, such as asthma, sinusitis, and rhinitis. Whether the call center will mitigate the issues identified by the OIG cannot yet be determined, and its rollout does not negate the need for corrective actions.

The OIG made seven recommendations to the under secretary for health that include revising the questionnaire to be more veteran-centric, identifying whether veterans with unscheduled exams are still interested in one, and implementing processes and metrics to ensure exams are completed. Further, the OIG recommended developing guidance to ensure responsible parties review and discuss performance data and the enhancement of registry information systems.