Excerpt from GAO: (click for entire article)
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) pension program design and management do not adequately ensure that only veterans with financial need receive pension benefits. While the pension program is means tested, there is no prohibition on transferring assets prior to applying for benefits. Other means-tested programs, such as Medicaid, conduct a look-back review to determine if an individual has transferred assets at less than fair market value, and if so, may deny benefits for a period of time, known as the penalty period. This control helps ensure that only those in financial need receive benefits. In contrast, VA pension claimants can transfer assets for less than fair market value immediately prior to applying and be approved for benefits. For example, GAO identified a case where a claimant transferred over a million dollars less than 3 months prior to applying and was granted benefits. Also, VA’s process for assessing initial eligibility is inadequate in several key respects. The application form does not ask for some sources of income and assets such as private retirement income, annuities, and trusts. As a result, VA lacks complete information on a claimant’s financial situation. Also, the form does not ask about asset transfers—information VA needs to determine whether these assets should be included when assessing eligibility. In addition, VA does not verify all the information it does request on the form. For example, VA does not routinely request supporting documents, such as bank statements or tax records, unless questions are raised. VA’s fiduciary program, which appoints individuals to manage the financial affairs of beneficiaries who are unable to do so themselves, collects financial information that may affect some pension recipients’ eligibility, but VA pension claims processors do not have access to all this information. Further, guidance on when assets should be included as part of a claimant’s net worth is unclear; and VA claims processors must use their own discretion when assessing eligibility for benefits, which can lead to inconsistent decisions.