The Ongoing Scandal Called the Veterans Administration
My mother died last Thursday at the age of 89. Her death, fortunately coming peacefully after she suffered a stroke during her sleep, followed a long mental decline caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
I’m sure the Veterans Administration is relieved. They won’t have to pay her the thousands of dollars in retroactive pension money they would have owed had she lived until they finally processed her application (or the tens of thousands of dollars more they'd have spent if she'd continued to live).
Mom was a US Navy veteran of World War II. Something of a pioneer for women in the military, she volunteered to become a Navy WAVE (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) as a young woman in her early 20’s during the war, and was posted at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where she took on the duties of some male sailor who was thus freed up to go to sea. Because she had earned an honorable discharge, she was entitled, in her old age, to a pension, currently worth about $22,000 per year, based upon her financial need.
The way these pensions work is, if a retired veteran’s income, after deducting all medical costs, including the costs of home care for those who cannot live on their own because of some disability, falls below the pension amount of $22,000, the VA is supposed to provide pension funds that will “top up” the person’s income to that level. In my mother’s case, because she was unable to take care of herself, and had to have a round-the-clock home-care companion in her house, her cost of care -- about $70,000 a year -- was entirely eating up both the $36,000 pension my father left her and her $14,000 Social Security widow’s benefit, leaving her with a deficit of $20,000 a year plus the cost of her food and other things, all of which I and my two siblings had to cover.
In early January, I filed her application for a veteran’s pension. We had earlier registered her with the VA, so they had already, two years earlier, processed and confirmed her discharge papers and issued her a veteran’s ID number. Last June, we also applied for her veteran’s medical benefits and she had been approved for VA healthcare last October. All we needed to do in January then, since her service and discharge status had already been confirmed, was document her income, which we did with a statement from both the Social Security Administration and the Connecticut State Comptroller’s pension office (my dad, a US Marine veteran who had died in March, 2012, had been a professor at the University of Connecticut), and document her home-care and other medical expenses, which required only a statement from the licensed home-care agency we were using.
All of that should be so routine and simple that a pension could have been approved with the stroke of a few computer keys, but we were advised by a veterans affairs advocate working for the town of Windham, Connecticut that such applications were taking nine months to a year for the agency to process!