The number of beneficiaries receiving Improved Pension increased 25% from 2010 to 2011. Such a substantial increase led the VA to make organizational changes with the goal of allocating more resources and attention to the special issues surrounding the eligibility criteria for Improved Pension.
The Pension and Fiduciary Services Department was established April 11, 2011, which David McLenachen, Director, being appointed on August 29, 2011. The purpose of the new Service is to allow VA to separately focus on administration of the pension and fiduciary programs. The P&F Service is responsible for issuing policy and procedural guidance to the Pension Management Centers and VA’s fiduciary activities, as well as monitoring consistency in decision-making and quality of decisions.
With regard to policy and decision making, attorneys working with pension claims have experienced surprising and inconsistent results, specifically in the areas of net worth calculation for the home place, assets placed in trusts, and transfers of assets. Because of the widespread disparity and overwhelmingly increase in confusion among lawyers across the United States, as evidenced by communication on various listserves, I felt it was time to seek go directly to the source and get answers. I had been communicating with David for years via telephone and email when he worked as a staff attorney under the General Counsel. But, since he became the leader in charge of the new Pension & Fiduciary Services, I wanted to meet with him face-to-face to discuss such important matters.
As never done before, I requested an in-person meeting with David McLenachen to discuss with him the inconsistencies, the changes in policy and practice but not law, the expectation of the future so that lawyers could competently advise their clients. To my delight, Mr. McLenachen accepted the invitation.
Knowing that this meeting would be the beginning or the end of establishing a good relationship, I felt it necessary to call upon my closest and most qualified colleagues to join me. Moreover, having attorneys who service clients from all three PMCs was important. Thus, I invited Rick Law, Law Elder Law, and his associate Zach Hesselbaum, from Illinois, and William (Bill) Hammond, The Elder & Disability Law Firm of William G. Hammond, from Kansas and Missouri, to join me. Rick Law has been a long time national educator on the Improved Pension and Bill Hammond has the innate ability to recognized trends in the market place and key in on the most relevant issues.
On December 19, 2011, the four of us traveled to Arlington, VA and met with the entire team comprising the Pension & Fiduciary Service for almost three hours. We felt the meeting went exceptionally well. Mr. McLenachen, Director, and his entire team met us warmly and opened with a presentation summarizing the new service and its mission. He then turned the meeting over to me wherein I introduced myself, Bill Hammond, Rick Law, and Zach Hesselbaum. Rick then discussed the importance of understanding the Elder Care Journey and how VA benefits fits into this journey. Following, we all discussed the specific issues related to net worth and the homestead, transfers of assets issues, income only trust issues, independent living facilities, and fiduciary concerns. The entire staff was engaged and sincerely interested to hear what we were communicating. We ended the meeting by playing a video of three of my three clients showing their personal experiences filing for VA pension benefits as well as how the pension helped them maintain a better quality of life.
The P&F Services indicated that they have been discussing making changes to the regulations (title 38) regarding both the homestead and transfers of assets. They encouraged us to look for the proposed changes in the federal register. When proposed regulations are submitted, the public has an opportunity to comment and recommend suggested changes. The period to make comment lasts for 60 days from the time the proposed regulation was published. We will monitor this and certainly make comment when appropriate.
Overall, it was clear that the Director and staff of the new P&F service is open to communication, they want to make the right changes to ensure the mission of the VA is being met and that veterans are being taken care of. We feel very positive that this meeting was the beginning of a good relationship with the VA.
Victoria L. Collier, Collier & St. Clair, LLP, co-founder VAGA, co-author VisPro, author of 47 Secret Veterans Benefits for Seniors…Benefits You Have Earned but Don’t Know About, and national speaker and educator of VA Improved Pension benefits, and periodic contributor to the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys blog.
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