Veterans' Pension Benefits: Improvements Needed to Ensure Only Qualified Veterans Receive Benefits Page: 3 of 15
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year-old veteran and contacted 25 judgmentally selected organizations
which included both financial planners and attorneys. We had discussions
with representatives of 19 of these organizations. A more detailed
explanation of our methodology is available in our full report. Our audit
work was conducted in accordance with generally accepted government
auditing standards. Our investigative work was conducted in accordance
with Quality Standards for Inspection and Evaluation published by the
Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.
In summary, we identified over 200 organizations that market financial
and estate planning services to help pension claimants with excess
assets qualify for pension benefits. These organizations consist primarily
of financial planners and attorneys who offer products such as annuities
and trusts. All 19 organizations our investigative staff contacted said a
claimant can qualify for pension benefits by transferring assets before
applying, which is permitted under the program. Two organization
representatives said they helped pension claimants with substantial
assets, including millionaires, obtain VA's approval for benefits. Some
products and services provided, such as deferred annuities, may not be
suitable for the elderly because they may not have access to their funds
within their expected lifetime without facing high withdrawal fees. Also,
such asset transfers may result in ineligibility for Medicaid coverage for
long-term care for a period of time. The majority of the 19 organizations
contacted charged fees, ranging from a few hundred dollars for benefits
counseling to $10,000 for establishment of a trust. In our report we asked
Congress to consider establishing a look-back and penalty period for
pension claimants who transfer assets prior to applying for pension
benefits, similar to other federally supported means-tested programs,
such as Medicaid. We also recommended that VA obtain timely
information on asset transfers, strengthen income and asset verification
processes, and provide clearer guidance to claims processors. VA
concurred with our recommendations and agreed that a look back and
penalty period for asset transfers was needed.
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Veterans' Pension Benefits: Improvements Needed to Ensure Only Qualified Veterans Receive Benefits, text, June 6, 2012; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc302897/m1/3/: accessed April 22, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.