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Audit finds botched claims at St. Louis VA

ST. LOUIS - A federal investigation has found a high rate of mismanaged disability claims at VA medical facilities in St. Louis.

A U.S. Office of the Inspector General report released Thursday found that the St. Louis veterans' benefits office mishandled one-third of the disability claims it processes - qualified veterans were paid too much as well as too little.

The report shows an average benefits claim at the downtown St. Louis regional benefits office has been pending for 171 days, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (bit.ly/1mMCgar) reported. That's about two months above the Veterans Benefits Administration target.

The 815-employee office is one of more than 50 regional VA benefit offices where 12,373 compensation claims await processing.

The system, which includes the John Cochran and Jefferson Barracks hospitals and various clinics, has the fifth-longest wait time for new specialty appointments out of 141 health systems in the country, according to a separate audit released earlier this year.

S. Nick Nickens, acting director of the St. Louis office regional office, agreed with the federal investigators' recommendations on how to improve performance.

Earlier this week, the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs vowed to crack down on whistleblower retaliation during a speech to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in St. Louis.

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