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AMERICAN LEGION POST 143 DEPARTMENT OF IDAHO
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This article concerns a family that was trying to apply for aid and attendance benefits and ended up in a horrible financial situation. Just shows what can happen when you don't use available assistance in filling out VA forms.
My mother has been receiving VA benefits for five years. She is in a wheelchair with MS and I have been her full time caregiver. A few months ago she received a letter from the Paralyzed Veterans of America encouraging her to apply for the Aid & Attendance Benefit. We made the appointment with her Neurologist to fill out the application. After answering questions about whether my mother needs help getting dressed, bathing & preparing food, we unwittingly answered yes to the question "Do you need help managing your finances?". We all completely thought we were answering the question about her needing physical help of getting to and from the bank & mailing bills. Never in our wildest imagination could we have been prepared for the VA declaring my mom Mentally Incompetent from that application.
When I contacted our representative from the PVA, she didn't seem to think it was such a big deal & we could just let the VA declare her incompetent & request for me to be appointed her Fiduciary. I am already my mothers Power of Attorney and have kept her in her home for many years. The idea of needing permission to care for my other is insulting! The idea that my mother is mentally incompetent is insulting! I had the rep from the PVA submit a statement from her doctor clarifying that she only needs physical help & is no way mentally unable to take care of her financial business. Although it was submitted on time, the VA said they never received any response from us in the 60 days allotted & would be moving forward with the Fiduciary program.
Then the Field Examiner called & explained he needed my mothers bank account numbers & bank statements & access to all of her assets. How can this not be a big deal??? After researching the Fiduciary Program, all I come up with are horror stories of families losing their rights & control over their finances. I spoke to both the Field Examiner & the PVA rep today. They both say that my mother & I are overreacting. The PVA rep said she has never heard of any one from her office being unhappy about the Fiduciary Program & she said she has never had to file an appeal.
We told both the Field Examiner & the PVA rep that we will not allow an interview in our home & we will not give her bank accounts numbers to anyone. Her benefits will be suspended & we want to pursue an appeal.
Are we overreacting? Do we trust our PVA rep to fight for us during the appeal? If not should I file the appeal myself?
Any help would be appreciated! The most frustrating part of all of this is the fact the we were doing just fine until we sent in that Aid/ Attendance application. Now we are facing my mother having to walk away from her benefit.
You've fallen into a trap along with thousands and thousands of other veterans and their families. No, you aren't overreacting. Even if you are appointed as fiduciary, you'll not have control of how any money is spent. You will first have to get approval from the VA employee who will monitor your fiduciary activities. If you annoy that person, you'll soon find that you are no longer the fiduciary and a stranger has been appointed.
If a VA appointed fiduciary isn't absolutely required because of the health status of the veteran, the veteran is always better without one.
The baited question is often as simple as, "Who handles the money in your house?" The veteran usually answers, "My wife does. She writes all the checks and keeps the checkbook balanced and pays the bills." The examiner then makes a quick note, "The veteran is incompetent to manage his own finances."
That's when the fight starts. Most households in America have one person who does the majority of the drudge work of paying the bills. My instincts tell me that it's usually the wife who manages the bank account. Of course, that doesn't mean that the veteran couldn't handle his own money if he had to, his family is following the usual pattern of how families work.
But VA enjoys a good fight with veterans. The VA fiduciary program is universally condemned by any rational person who has studied it. In the last few years, a small number of dedicated veterans law attorneys have taken cases like yours high into the federal courts system where the VA has stonewalled and continued to do just as the VA wants to do.
There are a small handful of veterans and their families who have decided that they won't cooperate with VA. I'm hearing from veterans who will not allow the VA field examiner into their homes. I'm told of threats to call the local sheriff if a VA field examiner should try to cross over on to private property. These sort of cases have caused VA to blink but only for a second. They're responding by withholding the VA benefits payments that these veterans need to survive.
The VA fiduciary arm is the bully on the beach. They kick sand in the faces of the veterans who are least able to defend themselves. They claim to be following policy and procedure...the law...but somehow the laws meant to protect and serve veterans are twisted to take money out of their pockets for no good reason. The veteran who has a fiduciary appointed is being punished for a crime that never happened.
Unfortunately, nobody can help you. The PVA is a successful veterans service organization with a reasonable track record of assisting veterans with their claims. Unfortunately, the appointment of a fiduciary brings about the response you got, "the PVA rep said she has never heard of any one from her office being unhappy about the Fiduciary Program". If she has never heard of anyone unhappy with a fiduciary appointment, she hasn't kept up. That just isn't real world.
There is only one approach to this. You must do it yourself.
Veterans law attorneys won't be able to help you. The average VSO isn't well versed on the complex regulations involved. Your congressional representative may do an inquiry but he/she will get back a form letter that says the VA is following the law and to butt out.
You have to file an appeal yourself. If you don't file it, it won't happen. Then you have to settle in for a long battle. VA has hundreds and hundreds of lawyers supported by tens of thousands of staff who will enjoy the argument with you.
You can't have a lawyer yet the VA has a fairly unlimited supply of attorneys and money to ensure that you have little chance of winning your veterans benefit.
I'm in the process of updating that page so you may want to check back over the next few days for anything new. I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have as you get started.
Here is the link to this article: http://www.vawatchdog.org
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