Vets lose benefits as VA covers up mistake

Post date: Apr 29, 2011 5:46:52 PM

Thousands of veterans who served our country seem to have been taken advantage of when it comes to their benefits. It involves vets who have been declared incompetent and are receiving VA benefits.

Ed Brewer is one of thousands of veterans who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"Now that I'm old and sick, and I need what I fought for... they're telling me to go to hell," he says.

In a speech from the House floor, Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) told his fellow representatives that if something isn't done about the vets who are suffering from PTSD, the situation is going to get worse.

With pressure from Congress, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been giving disability payments to veterans like Brewer. But while he has been awarded benefits, Brewer can't receive them, because he has been declared incompetent by the VA.

"I'm fighting for my life," Brewer says. "It's a tough battle, because I'm not young anymore."

When a veteran is declared incompetent, he or she must have a guardian to handle finances. The Department of Veteran Affairs then sends the money to the guardian in a direct deposit account.

Matt DeRouch, who was program manager for the fiduciary program for the VA, says a guardian was supposed to receive five percent of the veteran's VA benefits as payment, but he discovered the Regional office was paying the guardians five percent of all income that the incapacitated vet was earning.

"That included federal retirement, military retirement, and investments. They were taking five percent of everything," he says.

DeRouch says he went to his direct supervisor and showed him what he found. "He shook his head and couldn't believe what I just discovered."

It was an honest mistake made by the regional office of the Department of Veteran Affairs, and upon discovering the problem, the Department tried fixing it.

It started sending out letters to guardians explaining they were now only entitled to five percent of VA benefits, that they had been overpaid and needed to return the money.

However, guardians fought back, saying this is not what the courts awarded.

That's when the VA backed off.

DeRouch says the Department's first reaction was a good call, but then there was a meeting and it was decided if this got out, there would be gridlock in the process.

In order to solve the problem, internal memos and e-mails show the regional office came up with a solution that allowed guardians to collect five percent of all the veteran's income by declaring it was for extraordinary services and they could collect extraordinary fees.

"The undersecretary on down signed off on this process in clear violation of the law," DeRouch says.

The VA justifies it by saying if the Florida courts appoint a guardian, a five percent commission is permissible under the Florida Uniform Veterans Guardianship Act. But a March 2010 Inspector General Audit found VA regional officers are not consistently taking effective actions to insure the income and estates of incompetent beneficiaries are protected.

Which brings us back to Ed Brewer, who is waiting for a guardian after the VA declared him incompetent... despite the fact a psychiatrist who works for the VA says Brewer is totally competent, he is aware of his benefits, spending them wisely and doesn't need a guardian.

Brewer says, "I remember the recruiter saying, 'Son, if anything ever happens, we're going to be there for you.' Now I'm a broke down, sick old man. I need my country, and all I get from my country is the middle finger and a foot in the ass."

Brewer is lucky he can fight the system, but thousands of others who are incompetent are losing benefits after fighting to protect our country.