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Surviving spouses urged to ensure they receive benefits

MEDIA RELEASE

Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) is urging widows and widowers of deceased veterans to check to be sure that they received VA compensation for the month of their spouse’s death.

According to new figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 196,030 widows and widowers have received a total of $124,348,136 in month-of-death back payments since Akaka uncovered a VA accounting error in December 2008.

“Nearly 200,000 widows and widowers have finally received their benefits, but I want to be sure that all surviving spouses receive the compensation they are eligible for. I urge the survivors of disabled veterans to contact VA if they did not receive compensation during the month of their loved one’s death,” Akaka said.

For almost 12 years, surviving spouses of veterans were wrongfully denied benefits. In 1996, a law was enacted instructing that when a veteran receiving VA benefits died, the spouse would be entitled to a payment for the month of death.

However, due to an error, VA wrongly demanded the money back from many surviving spouses.

Akaka learned of the problem when a Maui widow contacted him for assistance after a payment for the month of her husband’s death was taken from her bank account by the Treasury Department.

Looking into this case, Akaka discovered VA had failed to adjust its computer programs and notification letters to surviving spouses after the law was changed.

As a result, surviving spouses were still being told the check they received was an overpayment that needed to be returned to VA. In cases where the money had been spent, such as for funeral expenses, the Treasury would withdraw the money from the widow or widower’s bank account.

VA has implemented new notification letters and changed its practices. However, surviving spouses should ensure their month-of-death benefit was paid as promised.

In some cases, VA may not be aware the veteran had a surviving spouse, as marital data is not always collected if the veteran’s benefit does not take a spousal amount into account. (This occurs when a veteran’s monthly compensation check is based on a disability rating of less than 30 percent, or when a veteran does not tell VA he or she has married after VA benefits are commenced.)

For more information from the Department of Veterans Affairs, visit www.vba.va.gov/survivorsbenefi…

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