The way that we sometimes dishonor our veterans has to stop. The latest outrage in the treatment of those who have served this country is the misuse of the Veterans Pension program, as outlined in the New York Times.
The newspaper told the stories of veterans who have been scammed by unscrupulous lawyers, financial advisers and insurance brokers and disappointed by the system that should have protected them.
The pension program can be worth more than $20,000 a year to war veterans who are disabled or over age 65. But some unsavory people who charge veterans thousands of dollars for useless advice leave out the part that this benefit is open only to those with an annual income of less than $12,465 for a veteran with no dependents.
The idea is to make these veterans, many of whom aren’t rich but are not poor enough to qualify for the benefit, believe that they can become eligible for the money to pay for retirement communities and assisted-living facilities. Whether the elderly veterans get evicted from what they thought would be their retirement home when they’re ultimately turned down for the program is of no consequence to the unscrupulous advisers.
Lawyers and other agents who get easy accreditation from the Department of Veterans Affairs sell these desperate veterans a bill of goods.
The problems arise because the VA’s accreditation process is extremely lax. The applicants are allowed to provide their own background information. If false information is submitted, there is little chance of being caught. The VA has only four full-time employees evaluating the approximately 5,000 applications that it receives annually. Once people receive the approval, they rarely lose it, not even as a retroactive penalty for those knowingly cheating the system.
Figures from the Government Accountability Office showing that more than 200 firms nationwide are focusing on VA retirement benefits should create a push for changes in the system. Stricter policies must be set in place to make sure applicants are qualified and, once accredited, work in the interests of the veterans.
The VA promises to fix the program, but veterans have been let down before.
The unacceptable backlog in applications for disability benefits is one example. Only recently has the agency made significant progress, reducing the number to 400,835 from its peak of 611,000 in March.
Meanwhile, veteran groups are fighting reductions in annual pension increases for military retirees under age 62. Remarkably, it is part of the new budget deal passed by Congress. Lawmakers say that they will review the cut and perhaps reverse it in the new year. But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s comments that such reform of military compensation cannot be avoided are not encouraging.
Certainly, military pensions are extremely generous when compared to private-sector and even most public-sector workers. But less than 20 percent of veterans serve the 20 years necessary to qualify for a pension. And let’s not forget how they put their lives on the line for their country. We should not break faith with those veterans.
That gets us back to those who served during wartime and the Veterans Pension program. The government must do a better job making sure that those who qualify are aware of the benefit and those who would take advantage of the system are prevented from doing so.