VA Improved Pension Program:

Some Persons Get More Than They Should and Others Less

HRD-80-61: Published: Aug 6, 1980. Publicly Released: Sep 8, 1980.

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Congress hoped that the law improving pensions for needy veterans, which went into effect January 1, 1979, would enable veterans and their survivors to receive benefits above the poverty level and help them avoid turning to welfare, such as the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Some couples who receive SSI and Veterans Administration (VA) pensions receive more in benefits from these two programs than other couples with similar or smaller incomes from other sources. The principal coordination of benefit information between VA and the Social Security Administration (SSA) occurs through automated data exchanges. Some changes are needed in this coordination to improve the accuracy of benefit payments by VA and to eliminate the exchange of unnecessary records. GAO estimated that $14.5 million of inaccurate pensions payments were made, principally in 1978. This consisted of: (1) $9.6 million in overpayments because the veterans or their spouses failed to report to VA receipt of social security benefits and because VA did not use the benefit data provided by SSA in the January 1979 data exchange; (2) $1.7 million in overpayments and $.3 million in underpayments substantially because one of the matching characteristics SSA used was not on the VA records; (3) $2 million in overpayments because veterans or their spouses did not accurately report receiving SSA black lung benefits; and (4) $.9 million in underpayments because VA pensioners improperly reported their SSI benefits as social security benefits. VA is providing SSA, in the quarterly data exchange, an estimated 5.1 million unneeded records because it did not use SSI indicators to limit the number of records provided. Additionally, VA is unnecessarily requesting SSA data for an estimated 618,700 known deceased veterans in the annual data exchange.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA issued new regulations and revised its operations manual to require verification of a claimant's identification number prior to award of VA income based benefits.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of Veterans Affairs and the Commissioner of Social Security should take the necessary action to resolve identification problems, which prevent benefit data on a large number of SSA-VA recipients from being provided to VA for use in verifying the accuracy of information being provided to pensioners, in the annual data exchange.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A memorandum of understanding was executed between VA and SSA. A detailed agreement on the method of implementation was never reached, and no efforts are underway to do so.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of Veterans Affairs should stop providing records during the quarterly exchange for those pensioners who are not SSI recipients.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: HHS disagreed with revising its regulations because it feels that it would result in undercutting other needs based programs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary, HHS, should revise the regulations for the SSI program so that the VA pension benefits being received by a veteran, not eligible for SSI, will be counted as income to the veteran's spouse who is eligible and be allocated and treated in the same manner as other federal benefits not based on need.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 1985, VA conducted a match of its pension rolls with the records of persons receiving black lung benefits as of March 1985.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of Veterans Affairs should establish a data exchange to verify federal black lung benefits and review other federal benefit programs to determine the need for, and feasibility of, obtaining benefit information from other agencies.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA used SSA annual data exchange information to identify and adjust payments for pensioners who did not report their SSA benefits.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of Veterans Affairs should use the SSA annual data exchange information to identify and adjust payments for those pensioners who did not report their social security benefits and have not yet been detected.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: VA did not concur with this recommendation. It stated that it provides data to SSA on deceased veterans' accounts, when survivors are receiving VA pension benefits, in order to verify the veterans' social security number and not for verification of payment data. The disclosures help identify the correct amount of VA benefits to be paid to surviving spouses.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of Veterans Affairs should stop providing records during the annual data exchange on veterans deceased more than 1 year.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS issued instructions for notifying certain SSA-VA recipients to file for improved pension benefits.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to immediately notify SSI-VA recipients residing in those states and the District of Columbia, where Medicaid eligibility is not directly related to SSI eligibility, that they must file for VA improved pension benefits and elect such benefits if they are higher than the VA benefits presently being received.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA issued new regulations and revised its operations manual to require verification of a claimant's identification number prior to award of VA income based benefits.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of Veterans Affairs and the Commissioner of Social Security should take the necessary action to resolve identification problems, which prevent benefit data on a large number of SSA-VA recipients from being provided to VA for use in verifying the accuracy of information being provided to pensioners, in the annual data exchange.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

 

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