Breaking News

Robert A. McDonald confirmed as new Secretary of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs

In a gracious press release to VA employees, newly confirmed Secretary McDonald stated:

"We have strong institutional values—Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. We will all need to depend on and live by our values as we rise to meet the challenges ahead. Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson—my West Point classmate, a trusted friend, and a great leader—had it right in his recent statement to Congress: 'We can turn these challenges into the greatest opportunity for improvement in the history of the Department.'"

Same Sex Marriage and VA Benefits

Last week the Office of General Counsel of the Department of Veterans Affairs (OGC) issued Precedent Opinions 3-2014 and 4-2014 addressing qualification for VA benefits for spouses of veterans who are of the same sex. On September 4, 2013, President Obama directed the Executive Branch to cease enforcement of the definitions of “spouse” and “surviving spouse” in Title 38 of the United States Code to the extent that it uses language requiring a spouse to be of the opposite sex.

Calling for Shinseki to Step Down

As a point of clarification, I wanted to let our clients and readers know that the current news stories exposing VA cover ups and hidden wait lists concern the Medical Services side of the Department of Veterans Affairs. These news stories do not address concerns on the Disability Benefit side of the VA. Although long processing times for VA Benefits has long been an area of concern, that is not the reason that some are calling for Secretary Shinseki's resignation.

Government Shutdown Update

Turns out the information on the informational bulletin provided by the VA to inform the public on how the VA will be affected by the shutdown was a little misleading. I took it to say that pension and compensation claims processing would be fully funded through "late October." Today I was advised that if the shutdown continues past Monday October 7th, “non-essential” personnel will be furloughed (sent home), essential personnel will work without pay (for now). I did some research and it looks like the Veterans Benefit Administration as a whole will be down personnel by about 1/3.

Partial Government Shutdown

This morning we all learned that our Federal Government has incurred a partial shutdown. While we are all concerned about this on many levels, this firm’s clients are all very concerned about what this means for VA disability benefits. The VA is now running on a contingency plan that is in effect until "late October." This contingency plan appears to continue to fully fund compensation and pension benefits and the offices that are processing these claims. I have confirmed that October 1st benefit payments were deposited today and paper checks should be honored.

VA Announces End of Annual EVRs

In a news release from VA dated December 20, 2012, the Veterans Benefit Administration announced that Veterans and surviving spouses currently receiving Improved Pension benefits (“aid and attendance”) will no longer be required to complete the annual Eligibility Verification Report. VA, SSA and IRS are implementing a joint plan to share data regarding income and assets and so eliminate the need for paper reporting every January. EVRs have been a major source of confusion to thousands of Veterans.

Congress Considering a Three-Year Look Back for Asset Transfers and Gifts

Because of the wholesale abuse of pension eligibility standards perpetrated by elder law attorneys, financial planners and insurance agents “hiding” or sequestering assets for potential VA pension claimants, Congress is considering the implementation of a three-year look-back period on the transfer or gifting of assets.  This recommendation was made by the GAO in its June 6, 2012 report on financial abuse and scams.  Sen. Richard Barr (R-NC), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Rep.

VA Clarifies Medical Expense Deductions for Residential Living

For the past two years, VA has had difficulty articulating under what conditions the cost of “room and board” as well as medical or nursing care incurred by claimants living in residential care facilities would be allowed as unreimbursed medical expenses or “UMEs.”  This question is of vital importance as it affects the majority of claimants seeking Improved Pension benefits.  Without this guidance, each of the VA Pension Management Centers developed their own semi-official policies which were in direct contradiction with each other.  Upon bringing this matter to the attention of the VA and

Congress announces COLA adjustment for Veterans Benefits

VA disability benefits will once again be adjusted effective December 1, 2012 due to an increase in cost of living (COLA.)  VA adjustments are generally identical to those for Social Security and other federal programs.  Effective December 1, 2012 for payments made beginning January 1, 2013, rates will be adjusted upwards by 1.017%.