Department of Veterans Affairs’ proposal could cut aid for vets
A government attempt to close a loophole in a benefit for low-income wartime veterans could hurt many of those it was designed to help, a benefits consultant said.
That’s because the Department of Veterans Affairs’ proposal goes beyond fixing a problem that arose from veterans transferring assets to family members or trusts in order to meet income limits for the pension benefit. The proposal would eliminate funding for assisted living services that many poor veterans rely on, said Patty Servaes of Elder Resource Benefits Consulting.
“In most cases, these are the poorest of the poor veterans,” she said.
A VA benefits official couldn’t be reached for comment on provisions of the proposed regulation.
The agency received more than 800 comments on the proposal, VA spokeswoman Megan Lutz said. The agency cannot estimate “when the final regulations will be ready for publication in the Federal Register,” she said.
The daughter of a World War II Navy veteran said the benefit had a significant impact on her father’s final months.
Having the government pay part of the $4,000 monthly cost of staying at Overlook Green in Whitehall eased Joseph Quinn’s mind, said his daughter, Kathleen Kotula of South Park. “I think it made him feel thankful that they were able to do that for him and his family,” she said.
Quinn, 91, of Bethel Park served on a minesweeper during the war. He retired as an industrial engineer from U.S. Steel Corp.’s Clairton Works.
He had a good pension, but “once you start looking at a nursing home and that sort of thing, it can eat your money up quickly,” Kotula said.
The staff at Overlook Green made sure he took his medications and helped him to take a shower, she said.
The benefit covers such minimal care, but the proposal classifies help with medications and daily living as non-medical, Servaes said.
“Under these new regulations, that’s not going to qualify you,” she said.
The benefit in question provides up to $2,120 per month for wartime veterans who are at least 65, or who have a disability not connected to their military service.
A 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office recommended the VA add a look-back provision, similar to one used by Medicaid, to keep veterans from transferring assets in order to meet income guidelines.
At least one veteran transferred more than $1 million to an irrevocable trust three months before applying for the benefit, the study found. Though the VA knew about the transfer, it approved the benefit because the transfer wasn’t illegal, the GAO said.
Such transfers are legal for the veterans’ benefit but tend to disqualify veterans for Medicaid coverage. The GAO found that some financial planners charged veterans hundreds to thousands of dollars in fees and urged them to transfer assets into trusts, even though that disqualified them for Medicaid.
The proposed change to the program would assume that any transfer made in the past three years before applying for the benefit was done to meet income requirements. That would disqualify the veteran from receiving the pension benefit for up to 10 years based on the amount transferred.
The VA said in its Federal Register notice of the proposed change that a penalty period might keep financial advisers from suggesting that claimants “transfer assets … to create the appearance of economic need where it does not exist.”
Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the organization believes the proposal will benefit veterans. An American Legion spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment.
Although Servaes dislikes some details of the look-back proposal, she doesn’t disagree with the general idea. She worries about veterans who need help with assisted living.
A VA analysis estimated the agency could save $134 million over five years from the look-back provision — but would save $313 million on denied coverage for assisted living services. Given those figures, it appears the intent is to target assisted living, she said.
“How could it not be?” Servaes said.
Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or [email protected].