The Charleston VA hospital funneled "hundreds of thousands of stipend dollars" to caregivers who may not have qualified for a program that benefits post-9/11 veterans, a new federal report shows.
"We found that caregivers were paid even though the facility had not documented required annual reassessments," a report published Thursday by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General explained.
The Caregiver Support Program, signed into law in 2010, provides robust benefits, including medical, mental health, travel, training and financial aid, to caregivers of eligible veterans and service members injured in the line of duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
During a February site visit, federal officials noted that 191 local caregivers were enrolled in the program and 204 applications were pending review.
Inspectors found that more than 100 applicants for the Caregiver Support Program in Charleston were kept waiting for decisions beyond the required 45-day window and that the hospital "placed a hold on all new applications while they addressed the care and monitoring of active participants in the program."
Furthermore, 57 percent of patients and caregivers enrolled in the program through the hospital did not receive an initial in-home visit within 10 business days, 75 percent never received a 90-day in-home monitoring visit and 89 percent never received a yearly in-home assessment - all requirements for participation.
The report determined that the hospital needs to ensure that "adequate staffing is available" to administer the program.
The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center has come under scrutiny this summer amid a national scandal that recently uncovered that veterans across the country may have died because of delays in care and that VA staff were instructed to falsify appointment data.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said in a prepared statement that the hospital agrees with the findings in the new report.
"The facility ... has corrected the administrative processes that led to a number of applications requiring review and processing. The facility has also increased staffing for this program," Tonya Lobbestael said. "Patient care was not compromised at any time."
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.