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VA secretary backs off plan to cut elderly vets' benefits
This Story expires on: Monday Jul. 31, 2017


Administration officials are backing away from plans to slash tens of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits from elderly veterans after an outcry from advocates who warned the move could cause significant financial harm to vulnerable veterans.  

During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said that he wants to avoid any policy changes that “hurt veterans” and is considering other options to the proposed changes.

“The budget is a process, and it became clear this (plan) would hurt some veterans,” he said. “I’m really concerned about that … I’m not going to support policies that hurt veterans.”

At issue is a provision in President Donald Trump’s $186.5 billion VA budget for fiscal 2018 that would dramatically change eligibility rules for the department's Individual Unemployability program. Up to 210,000 veterans over the age of 60, at least 7,000 of whom are over 80, could be impacted by the change.

Under current rules, the IU program awards payouts at the 100 percent disabled rate to veterans who cannot find work due to service-connected injuries, even if their actual rating decision is less than that. It amounts to an unemployment benefit for veterans not officially labeled as unable to work.

Administration officials want to stop those payouts once veterans are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, arguing that retirement-age individuals should no longer qualify for unemployment benefits. Veterans who cannot collect Social Security would be exempt.  

The move would save $3.2 billion next year alone. Last month, Shulkin told lawmakers the IU changes were “a hard decision” but added that “I don’t think we can continue to only expand services and not look at the ones we are delivering.”

 

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