‘Just not being processed’: VA faces backlog of travel reimbursements for vets

A disabled veteran traveled out of town to hospitals for treatments, and the VA was supposed to reimburse him for those miles.

However, he said a new system delayed his money, and the money owed to thousands of other veterans.

“I fractured my spine in three places, cervical thorax and lumbar,” veteran James Seramba said. “I’ve had to have multiple surgeries for that.”

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The VA website states that it reimburses for “general health care travel,” which would include the time Seramba spends going to VA facilities.

“A lot of times they get bounced back and denied,” Seramba said. “They get put on hold so they’re just not being processed.”

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He said he is not alone.

“I was told by members of the travel department in Salisbury they have a backlog of over 6,000 claims,” a VA staff member wrote Seramba in a message. “Our workload has tripled, and there’s only four of us processing these claims.”

He said his current request is about $60, and he is concerned about other vets.

“A lot of veterans are on fixed income, Seramba said. “They’re retirees. They already have a tight budget. They’re being required to travel where they’re told to.”

Seramba said it’s the result of a broken system.

He told Channel 9 the problems started when the VA changed its reimbursement process last year from a form signed at the place of care to a website. He said that is difficult for older veterans to use, like the one he recently helped.

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“The man is almost 90 years old, and they’re expecting him to go on to a personal computer and get his travel reimbursement?” Seramba questioned.

Seramba said communication with the VA about his request had been scarce, until Channel 9 stepped into help the veteran.

“After I talked to you all yesterday, the VA called me and magically said by the end of the week, they’d have my situation completely cleared up,’ Seramba said.

The VA provided Channel 9 with some answers about the debacle.

They said as of Thursday, the agency has 3,150 outstanding claims.

It has 11 employees and a specialized team processing the requests. There have been no layoffs.

The VA acknowledged there is a learning curve for veterans and staff using the new system.

VA officials said they continue to train and education about the new process.

They added that veterans still have the option to submit a claim on paper.

Veterans groups and members of Congress have been fighting for nearly a decade, and are trying to keep vets from getting stuck with high emergency care bills.

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Lawmakers say more than 600,000 veterans have been improperly denied reimbursement claims by the VA.

There is a bill that would require the VA to reimburse veterans for the cost of care at non-VA hospitals, but that legislation has stalled.

Channel 9 asked when it could be taken up again, but have not received a response.