The Good News and the Bad News
Prior to January 2013, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) required recipients of non-service connected benefits to make a mandatory annual filing in order to maintain benefits eligibility. By filing of its so-called Eligibility Verification Renewal forms, beneficiaries provided VA with updated information on the amount of assets that they owned and their updated totals for income and recurring medical expenses. Beginning in January of 2013, the VA sent a letter to benefit recipients explaining they were discontinuing that practice and would no longer require an annual filing.
In one way, that move was a good thing. For beneficiaries who had no substantive changes to report, it was an unnecessary hassle to gather a bunch of information and fill out and file the required forms. Since many people already had their hands full dealing with bill paying and keeping track of financial information needed for income tax return preparation, yet another required filing was an unwelcome burden.
However, for many unknowing beneficiaries there is a very real downside to that change. As the VA letter explained, although VA no longer requires the annual renewal filing by beneficiaries, VA will still conduct its own internal process of updating some of the key financial information. For example, VA’s computer system is tied into the computer system used by the Social Security Administration. Therefore, VA will automatically stay current with annual increases in Social Security retirement income which tends to rise in most years. What VA will not know about - unless they are informed by beneficiaries - are increases in the beneficiaries’ recurring medical expenses.
Recall that the simple formula VA uses to determine benefit eligibility looks to gross income less recurring medical expenses. If hypothetically with the New Year a beneficiary has their Social Security payments rise $100 and the monthly premiums for their health insurance policy also rises by $100, then those two simply offset each other and there is no real gain for the beneficiary. VA will automatically know about the increased Social Security but it will not know about the increased cost of insurance. VA will continue to offset that claimant’s newly increased income by the now out-of-date total of medical expenses. Without that benefit recipient voluntarily telling VA about the increased medical costs, VA will automatically decrease their VA benefit payments. For some benefit recipients, they may lose their VA benefit entirely.
If you or a loved one is receiving non-service-connected VA benefits there are two simple questions to consider. First, consider whether the total amount of recurring medical expenses has changed compared to whatever amounts VA has on file. Second, for any claimant who is already receiving the largest possible benefit amount allowed under VA’s rules, an increase in his or her medical expenses may be irrelevant as long as the total expenses continue to exceed total income.
Please call us at 860-769-6938 if you have any questions about the issues presented above or if you care to discuss any other planning issues with us.