Forward Observer — Cutting the Red Tape from Veterans’ and Survivors’ Pensions — Somewhat

VBA CHANGES EVR REPORTING REQUIREMENTS

LVMAC Poster Art 2005Besides seeming to signal lately the transition in nomenclature from the poorly named Disability Pension and the Death Pension to the terms Veterans’ Pension and Survivors’ Pension  respectively, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has gone on to do something truly significant in this benefit area which is worthwhile to our veterans and their survivors: preventing the unnecessary interruption of monthly payments over the failure to file a report on time. The new procedure also applies to Parents Dependency Indemnity Compensation (Parents DIC) because it too is income-based and is, therefore, essentially a pension in the VA’s lingo.

On 20 December, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it is cutting red tape for Veterans by eliminating the need for them to complete an  annual Eligibility Verification Report (EVR).   It is implementing a new process for the previously annual process.  A side benefit is that it will shift manpower to eliminating the compensation claims backlog.

This now possible because the VA states it will “work with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify continued eligibility for pension benefits.”  Actually, this has always been possible and done to a limited degree previously. Probably, what is meant is that is automatic electronic tagging is now possible as a result of pension management be consolidated to three VA Regional Offices (Philadelphia for Eastern Seaboard and Puerto Rico, Milwaukee for a central region of the continental U.S. and St. Paul for the West, Northwest, and Southwest.) which allows for efficiencies in systems integration in addition to uniformity of services to be achieved not currently possible under the compensation claims system, in the opinion of this author.

The VA has estimated it would have sent nearly 150,000 EVRs to beneficiaries in January 2013. Their elimination is a boon to veterans, their families, and survivors because they will no longer have to return these routine reports to VA each year in order to avoid suspension of benefits.

It will not, however, eliminate the need to submit for changes in unreimbursed medical expenses, obviously. Regarding this, the VA states, “All beneficiaries currently receiving VA pension benefits will receive a letter from VA explaining these changes and providing instructions on how to continue to submit their unreimbursed medical expenses.” You may be eligible for a deduction from your income and a corresponding increase in your pension benefits if you paid for medical expenses, including Medicare Part B premiums. You may report any unreimbursed medical expenses on VA Form 21-8416, Medical Expense Report. The submission must be for the current calendar year and be received by the VA before December 31 of each year. If you need to apply for Enhanced or Special Monthly Pension, i.e., a housebound or aid and attendance monthly supplement, consult an accredited service officer before having your physician complete VA Form 21-2680, Examination for Housebound Status or Permanent Need for Regular Aid and Attendance.

Nor does it eliminate the requirement for reporting changes in your dependency status or changes to your income, when applicable. Specifically, this means, you must still notify VA of any changing in income for you or a family member (parent, spouse, or child) such as, earnings, interest or dividend payments from stocks, bonds or savings, retirement pension payments or other retirement income, money or property you inherit, rental income, other state or Federal benefits, and any other income changes. You may report any of the above changes on VA Form 21-527, Income-Net Worth and Employment Statement.

If you have dependents (spouse or child), you must tell them about any changes in their status and income as well. For example: tell them if you and your spouse separate or divorce; one of your children, over age 18 years old, marries or is no longer in school; if you get married, have a child or adopt a child; or if you lose a dependent. You may report any of the above changes on VA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents.

In the event that you change your address, you also still need to notify them. You may report a change of address on VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of Claim.

By the way, all these forms can be found at http://www.va.gov/vaforms/. Note you can also make changes in income or dependency, using the toll free number 1-877-294-6380 (the National Pension Hotline). The TDD number for the hearing impaired is 711. At this stage, we still recommend you consult an accredited veterans service officer — state, county, or veterans service organization — before contacting the VA for the first time on a change.

You should also note the Department of the Treasury has mandated that all recurring federal benefits be administered through either Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) or Direct Express Debit MasterCard (a registered name).  The VA should be encouraging you to select the method for payment of your VA benefits before March 1, 2013.  If you do not change your payment method before March 1, 2013, the Treasury will contact you directly.

–  To have your Federal benefits electronically transferred to your designated financial institution, please call VA at 1‑877‑294‑6380 with your banking information.
–  To have your Federal benefits issued through Direct Express Debit Mastercard issued by Commerical Bank, please call 1‑800‑333‑1795 to enroll in the program.

Therefore, while an important improvement in service to be applauded because it eliminates the unnecessary interruptions of monthly payments properly due which have occurred in the past, we are left to wonder why the VBA is requiring reporting changes in income once eligibility is established because it reports it is receiving information from the IRS (and SSA).  For example, the majority of applicants properly report their incomes to the IRS, and the VA is double-checking in more ways than one, now.  As the VA states, in the FAQ section below, “If a period of time has passed between the change in income and or dependency of family members and the date in which it is discovered and processed by VA, you might be responsible to repay some or all of the benefits that were received by you.”  We can allow, presently, for the need to report changes in dependency status.

More information about VA pension benefits is available at http://www.benefits.va.gov/pension and other VA benefit programs on the joint Department of Defense — VA web portal eBenefits at www.ebenefits.va.gov.

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For your added convenience, we provide the EVR Termination “Frequently Asked Questions” developed by their Benefits Assistance Training Services division below:

Q: Why didn’t I receive an Eligibility Verification Report this year?

A: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will no longer require beneficiaries to complete EVR forms to continue receiving pension. This is because VA is working with other government agencies, such as Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), to verify your income through other means. While you will no longer be required to complete an EVR form each year, you must continue to report to VA any changes in your income or dependency status, as soon as possible after a change occurs.

Q: Why am I getting this letter on the elimination of EVRs now?

A: We sent this letter to inform you about VA’s change in the EVR policy and to remind you of your responsibility to report changes in your income or changes in your dependency status to the VA. The letter also provides additional information, such as information on the Treasury mandate for direct deposit and eBenefits.

Q: Is the Pension Program going away?

A: No. The Pension Program is not going away. You will continue to receive your pension payments at the applicable rate. However, if there is a change in your income, your dependency status, or the amount of unreimbursed medical expenses that you have paid, you must tell us. Such changes could result in a change in the amount of benefit payments that you are entitled to receive.

Q: How will you know if I receive income?

A: Although you are still responsible for reporting any income changes for you or your family members (spouse or child) whom you claim as dependents for pension purposes, VA will also verify your income received through computer matching agreements with other federal agencies, such as IRS and SSA.

Q: How will this affect my benefit moving forward?

A: You will continue to receive your current monthly benefit payment at the applicable rate, unless a change is reported.

Q: I am particularly worried that VA will cut off or suspend my benefits if I do not complete the EVR form. Will VA cut my pension off?

A: No. Going forward, VA will not stop your benefits for failure to return an EVR form. Because VA no longer requires you to complete an EVR, your benefit payments will continue at the applicable rate. However, if there is a change in your income, your dependency status or the amount of unreimbursed medical expenses that you have paid, you must tell us. Such changes could result in a change in the amount of benefit payments to which you are entitled.

Q:  Will the suspension of EVRs have any impact on my ability to submit unreimbursed medical expenses?   

A:  No.  This change does not impact your ability to submit a claim for your unreimbursed medical expenses. However, these expenses must have been paid during the calendar year. You may report any unreimbursed medical expenses on VA Form 21-8416, Medical Expense Report.

Q: Do I still have the option of submitting an EVR to report my change in income?

A: No. You will need to use VA Form, 21-527, Income-Net Worth and Employment Statement, to report any changes income. You can locate the appropriate form at http://www.va.gov/vaforms/.

Q: Do I still have to submit a medical expense report every year?

A: No. It is not necessary to submit a new medical expense report every year for those expenses that are recurring and will remain unchanged. However, if VA is not paying you at the highest possible pension rate due to income, you can submit additional unreimbursed medical expenses that have been paid by you. If approved, VA will use these to offset your income, so that you receive a higher monthly payment amount.

Q: What if I’m in a nursing home or assisted living facility? Will I receive an EVR form to complete?

A: No. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has discontinued the EVR form. The fact that you may be in a nursing home or assisted living facility does not change this policy. While you will no longer be required to complete an EVR form each year, you must continue to report any changes in your income or dependency status, as soon as possible after a change occurs.

Q: What happens if VA discovers income I forgot to report or what if I forget to tell VA when I get divorced?

A: VA will notify you if we receive information affecting your entitlement to benefits. Because your pension payment is based on your countable income, your dependent family member’s income and their dependency status, these must be reviewed to determine if you are still eligible for benefit payments. If a period of time has passed between the change in income and or dependency of family members and the date in which it is discovered and processed by VA, you might be responsible to repay some or all of the benefits that were received by you.

Q: What do I do if I move?

A: Submit your change of address to VA. You can submit a change of address in several ways, to include: by telephone, by writing to us, or by visiting your local regional office or through your appointed claims representative.

Q: Where can I get more information on the elimination of EVRs?

A: All beneficiaries currently receiving VA pension benefits will receive a letter from VA explaining these changes and providing instructions on how to continue to submit your unreimbursed medical expenses. If you have questions, or if you would like to report changes in income or dependency, please call us toll-free by dialing 1-877-294-6380 or by visiting https://iris.va.gov/ to search Frequently Asked Questions or ask a question on-line. More information about pension benefits can also be found at http://www.benefits.va.gov/pension.

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RJH

As of 31 December 2012

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