Today, U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), introduced a bill designed to strengthen the VA pension program so it can fulfill its purpose of offering economic security to elderly, disabled, and low-income wartime veterans who truly rely on the program to avoid poverty. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation, coupled with efforts of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, has shined light on the fact that some organizations are making a profit at the expense of veterans by exploiting loopholes in the pension program. These groups are reported not only to try to convince wealthy veterans who do not need financial assistance to manipulate their assets in order to become eligible for VA pension, but also to prey on elderly and disabled veterans by charging them exorbitant fees and selling them financial products that may prevent them from having adequate resources in a time of need.
"Our nation's veterans have sacrificed much for our country, and the VA pension program is the least we can do to express our gratitude and ensure that veterans who honorably served our country in a time of war will never live in poverty," Senator Burr said. "We have a duty to protect the veterans who rely on this program from companies who threaten its ability to serve them by flooding the program with claims from beneficiaries who are not in need and to protect taxpayers from practices that undermine the integrity of this need-based program. By strengthening the pension program and implementing protections to discourage abuses, we can ensure that its benefits will be there for wartime veterans who genuinely need them now and in the future and help discourage companies from preying on elderly veterans."
Although the VA pension program has income and net worth limitations, there are currently no procedures to check whether an applicant has recently transferred away assets in order to qualify. The bill would protect the program and veterans from abuses by creating a three year "look-back" period, authorizing VA to examine whether any assets were repositioned in the three years prior to an individual's application for VA pension. Depending on the value of the assets, VA could deny pension for up to three years if the applicant repositioned assets during the look-back period. In addition, VA could disregard asset transfers during the look-back period and allow the pension to be paid if it would avoid an undue hardship on an applicant in need of benefits.
These protections not only are consistent with GAO's recommendations, but also are in line with changes VA itself has acknowledged are needed. Even more, similar protections have been tested and already apply to other need-based programs, such as Medicaid.