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TAMPA, Fla.  — The Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating how benefit claims documents nearly got destroyed at four regional offices, including Bay Pines Health Care System in St. Petersburg.

Officials found 18 documents at the four offices that, if destroyed, would have negatively affected veterans’ claims. Eight of the documents, including applications and change requests, were found in St. Petersburg in a bin of paper waiting to be shredded.

The regional office in St. Petersburg handles pension and disability claims for Florida’s 1.8 million veterans, including veterans in Hillsborough County.

“Just the fact that we found the documents in these offices raises the concern, what has happened in the past,” said Michael Walcoff, the department’s deputy undersecretary for benefits in Washington. “It’s something we’re very, very concerned about.”

The documents were identified during a routine audit of mailroom operations by the department’s inspector general. Once vital records were found in shred bins in Detroit, St. Louis and Waco, Texas, the agency issued an order for all 57 regional benefits offices to stop shredding paper.

Inspectors are in St. Petersburg this week inspecting the mailroom bins, Walcoff said.

Officials at all other regional benefits offices are going through the contents of all shred bins to see if they contain more claims documents.

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