Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to reintroduce the Veterans Pensions Protection Act of 2013, which will help protect our nation's veterans from unfairly losing their pensions benefits because they received payments to cover expenses incurred after an accident, theft, loss or casualty loss.
When assessing a veteran's eligibility for a pension, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers a variety of sources of revenue to determine a veteran's annual income. If such income exceeds the income limit set by the VA, the veteran does not qualify for a pension or loses their benefits. Currently, the VA considers any reimbursement that compensates a veteran for his/or her expenses due to accidents, theft or loss as income. Only reimbursements of expenses related to casualty loss are currently exempted from determination of income.
Under current law, if a veteran is seriously injured in an accident or the victim of a theft and receives insurance compensation to cover his/or her medical expenses, or the cost for pain and suffering, he or she will likely lose their pension. This means that the law effectively punishes veterans when they are involved in an accident or theft.
Such a tragedy happened to one of my constituents, a Navy veteran with muscular dystrophy who was hit by a truck when crossing the street in his wheelchair. His pension was abruptly cut-off after he received an insurance settlement payment to cover medical expenses for himself and his service dog, as well as material expenses to replace his wheelchair. As a result, he could not cover his daily expenses and mortgage payments and almost lost his home.
There is clearly something wrong with a law that cancels veterans' pensions following the award of an insurance payment, which was only intended to cover exceptional medical expenses. I am distraught that the VA can cancel the pensions of unemployed and disabled veterans without further notice. The VA has a moral responsibility to care for our veterans and ensure that they live decent lives.
This happens, because the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers a variety of sources of revenue to determine a veteran's annual income, when assessing a veteran's eligibility for a pension, including medical expenses reimbursements/pain and suffering reimbursements. If a veteran's income exceeds the limit set by the VA, then the veteran does not qualify for a pension or loses his/or her benefits.
For this reason, the bill is being reintroduced to include language from the original bill that addresses the issue of medical expense/pain and suffering reimbursements.
The majority of the original bill, H.R. 923, was passed into legislation in the form of PL 112-154. However, while the law addresses veterans' eligibility for pensions (and surviving spouse/children) in regard to their reimbursements (for any accident, theft or loss, or casualty loss), it does not specify medical expenses or pain and suffering reimbursements.
Mr. Speaker, this legislation will ensure that pensions are issued to veterans who legitimately meet the income criteria and rely on such benefits to survive. We must enact regulations that help veterans live better lives, not hurt them. At a time when our nation's servicemen and women are fighting two wars abroad, we have a duty to our past, present, and future veterans to provide them with the very best services and benefits. We owe our veterans an enormous debt, and cannot thank them enough for their service. On behalf of the unfortunate veterans who have slipped through the cracks due his punitive law, such as my aforementioned constituent, I ask for your support of this important legislation.