(Department of Veterans Affairs)

An arm of the Veterans Affairs Department in Atlanta eliminated 208,272 applications from across the country for health care early this year amid efforts to shrink a massive backlog of requests, saying they were missing signatures or information about military service and income, according to records reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Veterans groups say the VA should have done more to communicate with the veterans before closing their applications, some of which date back to 1998. Troops face additional challenges in applying for VA health care, they said, as they grapple with reentry into civilian life, change addresses following overseas deployments and suffer from combat stress.

In the middle of the controversy is the VA's Health Eligibility Center, the Atlanta office that oversees the process by which veterans seek access to the VA medical system. It and its parent agency have come under intense scrutiny in recent years for mismanagement and delays in providing medical care, presenting a thorny challenge for the administration of President Donald Trump, who focused on veterans' care during his presidential campaign.

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This Aug. 10, 2018, file photo shows a ramshackle compound in the desert area of Amalia, N.M. The five men and women found living in a ramshackle compound in northern New Mexico where a boy was found dead last year have been indicted on federal charges related to terrorism, kidnapping and firearms violations.(Associated Press/Brian Skoloff)

A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted five relatives from Atlanta, charging them with plotting terrorism after kidnapping a toddler and retreating to an isolated desert compound in New Mexico.

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VA photo

The head of the VA’s national health care enrollment office in Atlanta exchanged a series of unprofessional and racially charged instant messages with another VA employee — raising new doubts about the leadership of the enrollment system that serves millions of veterans nationwide.

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