Thursday, February 14, 2008

New GAO report says VA needs to improve pension management

In 2006, most of the over 500,000 VA pensioners had nonpension incomes well
below the federal poverty level, were beyond retirement age, and had multiple
impairments, and the population has been decreasing in number. The average
annual reported income of these pensioners, excluding their VA pensions, was
less than $5,000. The average age of VA pensioners was 70. More than 80
percent had no spouse or dependent children. Three-fourths of veteran
pensioners had multiple impairments. After reaching a peak of almost 2
million in 1978, the overall size of the pensioner population has gradually
decreased, although the number of pensioners from more recent service
periods has been increasing.

VA policies and procedures are not sufficient to ensure sound decisions on
new pension claims. Unlike other federal agencies with similar income-based
programs, VA largely does not independently verify the accuracy of financial
information provided by claimants to support initial pension program
eligiblity. In addition, the guidance used by staff to make pension eligibility
decisions is not always current or clear. Further, VA’s quality assurance
review process for initial claims does not select a sufficient number of
pension cases to ensure the accuracy of pension claims decisions. Finally, VA
does not adequately evaluate training for pension staff.

VA procedures for assessing whether pensioners continue to receive the
proper benefits have significant limitations. Although the agency requires
pensioners to report changes that might affect their pensions, VA does not
require documentation such as bank or asset statements when pensioners
report financial changes. Also, a key data match operation with the Internal
Revenue Service is not conducted in a timely or efficient manner. Finally,
despite millions of dollars in improper pension payments made each year, VA
lacks a system to monitor and analyze their causes.

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