|Title:||Improved Processing Needed for Veterans’ Claims of Contaminated Water Exposure at Camp Lejeune|
|VA Office:||Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)
|Report Author:||Office of Audits and Evaluations
From August 1953 through December 1987, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry estimated one million individuals could have been exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, a US military training facility. In March 2017, VA established a presumption of military service connection for eight illnesses related to veterans’ exposure to that contaminated water. The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted this review to determine whether Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) staff followed regulations when processing and deciding claimed conditions potentially associated with contaminated water exposure at Camp Lejeune. Based on a statistical sample, the OIG estimated that of 57,500 Camp Lejeune-related claims for VA disability compensation benefits decided during the review period (March 14, 2017–March 31, 2021), VBA staff incorrectly processed 21,000. The two main errors were prematurely denying claims (17,200) by not sending required letters to veterans requesting evidence needed to document exposure and assigning incorrect effective dates for benefit entitlement (2,300 claims). Approximately 1,500 additional incorrectly processed claims involved technical or procedural errors. Premature denial of claims increased the risk that some veterans did not receive the benefits to which they were entitled, and veterans were underpaid at least $13.8 million in benefits over nearly four years because VA regional office staff did not assign the earliest effective date for benefits entitlement. The OIG found that errors were less likely to occur at the Louisville Regional Office, which processes most Camp Lejeune-related claims; staff from other VA regional offices lacked experience processing these claims. The OIG recommended that VBA centralize all Camp Lejeune-related claims processing at the Louisville Regional Office or implement a plan to mitigate the error rate disparity with other regional offices. VBA should also conduct targeted quality reviews of Camp Lejeune-related claims from all regional offices processing these claims.