Disabled veterans could get left out of stimulus money, lawmakers warn

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 7, 2020

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WASHINGTON — Dozens of lawmakers and advocates are concerned that a “significant” number of disabled veterans and surviving family members will never receive the direct payments Congress approved as part of a sweeping bill to support Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their concern is for disabled or low-income veterans and surviving family members who receive monthly compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs but don’t normally file tax returns or benefit from Social Security.

The Internal Revenue Service is using the addresses or direct deposit information on file from Americans’ 2018 or 2019 tax returns to send the stimulus checks. For some, the VA payments are their only income. Those payments are not taxable, so the IRS lacks payment information for many veterans and families — potentially millions, advocates said.

“Unfortunately, this approach will leave out a significant number of people who have little or no income and are not required to file a federal tax return, including many seriously disabled veterans and their survivors,” reads a letter from 12 veterans organizations to government leaders. “While there may be logistical or even legal obstacles to overcome, it is critically important that you and your departments work together to prevent potentially millions of disabled veterans and their survivors from losing this financial support.”

Congress approved a $2 trillion stimulus package March 27. The bill, intended to jolt the economy, includes direct payments to Americans, expanded unemployment benefits, loans to small businesses and a lending program for companies hurt by the pandemic.

The legislation provides direct payments of $1,200 to many Americans. The payments will decrease for Americans earning more than $75,000, and payments end for individuals making more than $99,000. Married couples that collectively earn up to $150,000 will receive payments of $2,400. Families will receive an additional $500 per child.

In an attempt to ensure disabled veterans and family members get their checks, 41 senators and three congressmen sent letters, urging the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Treasury Department and the IRS to collaborate. The letters went to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin; Andrew Saul, commissioner of the Social Security Administration; and Charles Rettig, commissioner of the IRS.

The senators said they want the payments to go to veterans automatically, without requiring them to file tax returns.

“Treasury should not require people with disabilities, low-income seniors and veterans to file a form to receive stimulus payments when the federal government already has the information it needs,” the senators wrote.

Government and elected officials already found a solution for Social Security recipients who don’t normally file tax returns. Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul said the IRS would use direct deposit information from his agency to send those Americans their checks.

“Regrettably, the law did not include a similar provision for disabled veterans or their survivors, so unless new action is taken. … These nonfilers will only receive a recovery rebate if they file a tax return,” the veterans organizations wrote.

Disabled American Veterans, The American Legion, AMVETS, Military Officers Association of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, the Fleet Reserve Association, Wounded Warrior Project, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart and the Blinded Veterans Association signed the letter.

Filing a tax return would be a significant burden for many of those affected “especially during this health emergency,” the groups wrote.

They want the VA to provide the IRS with a list of VA beneficiaries don’t work and don’t receive Social Security, along with their direct deposit information.

One of the names on that list would be Mark Gomez, a Marine Corps veteran in Fresno, Calif., whose only income is his monthly VA disability payment. Gomez, 46, has kidney disease and is unable to work. He’s been self-isolating during the pandemic, leaving the house only for dialysis treatment, he said.

"I want to be included, if everyone else is,” Gomez said. “I figured they rushed it – they didn’t dot the I’s and cross the T’s, but it’s kind of ridiculous if they’re not going to fix it now.”

For Gomez, the $1,200 check would be a needed boost.

“It would guarantee that I’m going to eat during this lockdown period,” he said.

The Treasury Department was expected to send the first stimulus payments in the next two weeks.

Twitter: @nikkiwentling