VA reduces paperwork for pension payouts
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 20, 2012
WASHINGTON – Department of Veterans Affairs officials are dropping their annual verification requirement for pension payouts, a move that should save tens of thousands of veterans paperwork grief and free up VA staff to work on other benefits claims.
The decision kills the VA’s cumbersome Eligibility Verification Report, which had asked for annual updates on veterans’ finances, medical coverage and living situation. The two-page form had an accompanying six-page set of instructions and required numerous other documents to ensure veterans didn’t lose their benefits.
Instead, department officials will use data from the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration to confirm veterans’ eligibility in real time. David McLenachen, VA’s director of pension and fiduciary service, said the move should speed up processing times and cut down on administrative errors.
About 500,000 veterans and family members current receive pension payouts. Without the move, at least 150,000 of them would have been required to resubmit the eligibility report next month or risk losing their benefits.
The shift will also free up about 100 claims processors, about two-thirds of the workforce assigned to processing those files.
Allison Hickey, VA’s undersecretary for benefits, said those staffers will be reassigned to work on the department’s problematic benefits backlog.
As of this week, more than 567,000 veterans claims have been pending for more than 125 days. That number has moved little over the last year, and the lengthy wait has drawn harsh criticism from veterans advocates and lawmakers.
McLenachen said that while the new process means veterans won’t have to resubmit eligibility forms, they will still receive notifications from the department if their payout totals change or if questions arise about their financial status. The appeals process to protest VA decisions remains the same.
Veterans receiving pension payouts will get a letter in the mail in coming weeks explaining the change.