Korean War vet’s relative seeks retroactive pay

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I am wondering if there is anything you can do to help my family. I will try to keep my story short. My husband has been suffering from ALS since 2005. He is an only child and in 2012, it became clear that his mother, my mother-in-law, was not able to care for herself in her home any longer. She only had me and her granddaughter (from my husband’s previous marriage) to help her. She ended up going to an assisted living facility near our home. Since her husband was a veteran of the Korean War, we applied for VA Aid and Attendance benefits in August of 2012. She was finally approved for benefits in July 2013 and began getting payments. However, they did not release the retroactive pay which would have been approx. $13,000 due to her having dementia and needing a fiduciary. Her granddaughter had power of attorney but we were told that did not matter and that someone would be calling to meet with her and interview her to be the fiduciary. Her application was handled through the American Legion in downtown Pittsburgh, PA. We followed up several times as we had not heard from anyone regarding the retroactive pay. My mother-in-law passed away in November 2013. So no retroactive pay was sent and I feel that she was owed that money. Why would it take so long (since July 2013) to take care of that? Thank you for anything you can do to get the money that was hers.

Pat M
Via the internet

Dear Pat,

The powers that be at the VA tell me that they called you in response to your inquiry. They discussed VA accrued benefits, and explained the application process. They sent an email summary to you providing detailed information on accrued benefits along with the required application.

Shaft Notes

• Representative Gus Bilirakis, Vice-Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, joined a bipartisan group of his House of Representatives colleagues in approving H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014.

“Given the recent atrocities at the Phoenix VA system, as well as other VA facilities across the country, I am extremely pleased to see this legislation pass by such an overwhelming margin. Senior management in the VA oversee and manage the hospitals where veterans are dying because of secret wait lists and unreasonably long waits to access care. Under current law, it is virtually impossible to hold them accountable for their failures, ” said Bilirakis. “The process to let go of a Senior Executive Service VA employee is impractically arduous, and usually results in a transfer instead of termination. The individuals who have allowed negligence to fester within the VA remain. H.R. 4031 is much needed legislation that allows the Secretary to fire VA senior employees who fail our nation’s veterans. The level of mistreatment is completely unacceptable, and senior VA management that allowed these failures must be held accountable.”

He joined his colleagues on the Committee in unanimously approving the issuance of a subpoena for senior VA officials to testify on or before Friday, May 30, 2014.

“We have given the VA every opportunity to proactively come forward and work with Congress on this issue, ” Bilirakis said. “The subpoena should not be taken lightly. This subpoena sends a strong message - we will not waver from our commitment to our nation’s heroes.”

On May 8, 2014, the Committee issued a subpoena requesting pertinent information surrounding the allegations of the Department’s secret waiting lists” that whistle blowers have referenced in the Phoenix, AZ health care system, and other facilities around the country.  The most recent subpoena order will stand should VA not uphold their promise to voluntarily meet before the House Committee on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.

Also very much concerned with  this issue is Retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) who wrote  to the Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama, urgently recommending he establish an independent, high-level commission to examine the VA health care system for the nation’s veterans in the 21st century.

MOAA members are deeply concerned over recent reports that a VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz. was keeping two waiting lists for veterans seeking care. A ‘secret’ list allegedly was used to deny access to care for veterans so that overall numbers would look good.  A retired VA physician alleges the list led to the untimely deaths of as many as 40 veterans.  The VA Inspector General is investigating the charges.

In writing to the President, Ryan noted, “We believe the current situation concerning allegations of secret waiting lists at the VA Phoenix hospital presents a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at VA health care in the 21st century.  The VA health care system delivers consistently high quality care to our nation’s veterans with few exceptions, once veterans can get in. However, as the current crisis has shown, our veterans’ access to care is often thwarted by bureaucratic red tape and inefficiencies.”

The last comprehensive review of VA health care was done nearly 20 years ago.  It led to the transformation of the VA health system so that veterans are seen today for routine, primary care needs as well as specialized care associated with their wartime disabilities.

“As health care delivery continues to evolve across the nation with decreasing reliance on inpatient services and facilities, MOAA believes that veterans and their families would benefit over the long term by an independent, strategic assessment of health care delivery modalities in the 21st century,” Ryan wrote. “We must act now to understand the challenges that lie ahead so that the VA is prepared for the long-term needs of the millions of veterans who have served our nation during the last 12 years of war.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.