Veteran's Benefits Administration not giving veterans proper benefits; refuses to correct mistake

Post date: May 4, 2011 1:29:50 PM

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - From his one-room apartment, Terry Richards does what he can to survive below the poverty level.

Richards, 62, is a Vietnam-era vet makes less than $12,000 a year in social security and pension benefits. In years he spends a large portion of his income on medical expenses, he gets partial reimbursement.

"Every penny counts for me and others like me," Richards said of the 637,000 veterans and family members who rely on Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) pensions.

See Also: Vets lose benefits as VA covers up mistake

But Richards recently discovered that the miles he claimed for trips to his doctor's appointments weren't reimbursed at the 41.5-cent rate Congress mandated in 2008. Because the VA hadn't updated its expense report form in years, veterans were still instructed to only claim 28.5 cents per mile.

For Richards, it made the difference of $56 one year. 10 News found other veterans with larger discrepancies.

"$56 is a lot of money when you only make $985 a month," Richards said.

He started writing letters to the VBA and Congressman Bill Young, a long-time veterans advocate. The VBA eventually sent him a check for the $56, but still didn't update the forms.

A spokesperson for the agency told 10 News that updating the form online was unnecessary, since the VBA automatically credits veterans the difference once they send in their annual reports with the wrong amount.

But they didn't in the cases 10 News studied. They also weren't able to tell how many of the forms were turned in last year.

Congressman Young eventually penned a letter to the head of the agency, citing "the need to immediate update the VA's 'Medical Expense Report' form (VA Form 21-8416) to ensure that our nation's veterans are properly being reimbursed for their travel expenses."

READ: Rep. Bill Young's letter (PDF)

Young also urged an audit of reports filed to find out how many veterans may have been shortchanged since Congress changed the reimbursement rate in 2008.