The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is the government agency in charge of paying many veteran benefits, including the GI Bill, and Aid and Attendance (also known as the Non Service Connected Improved Pension Benefit). In order to handle the many benefits programs over which the VA has the obligation to manage, they have created a large web of bureaucracy to process claims. The bureaucracy accounts for a lot of the well-documented delays in obtaining benefits.
However, the bureaucracy has also led to some extra benefits for some people. The New York Times reported that Kristen Ruell, an attorney who works for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs noticed an error when updating a benefit claim. A veteran’s widow, who was eligible for survivor benefits and was entitled to a $2,000 increase in benefits had somehow been duplicated in the computer system. The system was trying to pay the widow twice and was recommending additional retroactive payments.
The real eyebrow raising issue, however, is that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs does not seem to be doing anything about this issue. Instead, they minimize the magnitude of the issue, claiming that generally fewer than 100 duplicate payments are processed per year. However, Ruell claims that she and her colleagues see new claims processing errors resulting in duplicate payments weekly and that other processing offices have the same issue. Additionally, the VA does not pursue regaining overpayments once they’re made. As a result, some unknown amount of money is being paid to individuals incorrectly and no one is doing anything about it.
Evidently, the problem is caused by the computer system the VA adopted, called Veterans Service Network (Vetsnet), which allows veterans and their spouses to be identified by various numbers when making a claim. The most common identifying number is the Social Security Number; however, under an old system, the Veteran Number was also important to gaining benefits and many veterans did not have an SSN on file with the VA. As a result, some of those people later have a claim opened in their SSN for some reason (such as an increase in benefits) and a duplicate record is created accidentally.
The VA believes that the system of checks and balances in place generally does the job of preventing these payments from actually going out; the computer generates the payment, a person authorizes the payment, and then the Department of Treasury issues the check with an SSN on it. The process should ensure that no one is paid multiple times. However, some employees believe that the problem is rampant and management is simply ignoring this large issue.
Either way, chances are probably slim that you will ever see an extra payment. Planning your estate so that you ensure you will qualify for benefits, such as through a QVap Trust, being aware of the potential benefits, and keeping track of some necessary documents, such as discharge papers, can help you work through the VA’s process as easily as possible.
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