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Wounded Times

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Florida veterans and families not getting benefits they should

Little-known veteran pension hard to get and easy target for scammers
Sun Sentinel
By Ben Wolford
November 17, 2012

Problems with a Veterans Affairs benefit have created a scam industry and left thousands of seniors ignorant of a pension they are entitled to receive, veterans advocates and congressional investigators say.

Many families are unaware of the pension for ailing combat veterans and their dependents, footing the bill for their care as up to $24,239 a year for each veteran sits unused. Advocates blame poor outreach by the Veterans Affairs Department, a massive federal agency that wields $127 billion each year.

Families that do know about the Aid and Attendance pension, sometimes called the widows' pension, find themselves confronted with daunting paperwork. The applications, once submitted to one of three centralized processing offices, can take more than a year to approve.

Lisa Fitter spent 14 months seeking a pension for her mother-in-law, the widow of a World War II veteran, who suffered a massive stroke in May. The Fitters have struggled to provide 24-hour home care, and they pay an aide $15 to shower her each day.

"There is no excuse when you're dealing with a 96-year-old woman," said Fitter, 47, a Wellington Realtor. "She could have died."

Federal Veterans Affairs officials in Washington, D.C., and St. Petersburg did not respond to a series of questions and requests for interviews by email and phone.

But a spokesman told The New York Times in September that 38,076 veterans and 38,685 spouses were granted an Aid and Attendance pension in 2011. That year 1.7 million World War II veterans were alive and eligible for the pension.

Since December, hundreds of thousands have died, but more Korean War veterans, who number more than 2 million, will become eligible. The issue has particular resonance in Florida, where 187,900 World War II veterans reside, according to Veterans Affairs. The Census reports that about 32,846 Korean and World War II veterans live in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The benefit is a kind of last thank you for low-income veterans — or their spouses or dependent children — who are older than 65 and rely on others for daily care. They must have been a member of the Armed Forces at least one day during wartime and need not have been injured in combat.

On average, veterans received $9,669 in 2011, and their survivors received $6,209, according to a federal report published this year.
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