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Veterans' benefits in limbo after 10 News Investigators uncover another mistake

7:34 PM, Jan 13, 2012   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- There were three stories from the 10 News Investigators, two letters from Congressman Bill Young, and one admission from a member of the Cabinet that the Dept. of Veterans Affairs was making a potentially costly typo.  Yet, after eight months, the VA still hadn't fixed it.

In a story the 10 News Investigators first broke in April 2011, the VA has been sending out outdated medical reimbursement forms to hundreds of thousands of pension-eligible veterans and family members.

Instead of receiving the 41.5 cents per mile for medical visits, mandated by Congress in 2008, the VA had been sending out forms with 20-cent and 28.5-cent rates.  The difference can mean hundreds of dollars a year for veterans who often live on just $1,000 per month.

The VA first claimed it wasn't a big deal and veterans weren't getting cheated.  But U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Seminole, sent a letter to Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, urging the update of the forms.

Shinseki, who is also a member of the Cabinet, admitted the form "should have been updated years ago" and promised a fix. 

But months later, after more calls from the 10 News Investigators and another letter from Congressman Young to Shinseki, the VA finally changed the form on its website to reflect 41.5 cents per mile.  In December 2011, it changed the form again to explain the mileage reimbursement better.

Yet at the end of the year, hundreds of thousands of veterans and veterans' family members still received their pension packets in the mail with the 2008 out-of-date form.

"What is it going to take for the VA to be honest with veterans who have served and sacrificed in defense of this nation's and other nations' freedoms?" asked Terry Richards, a veterans' rights advocate in St. Petersburg who has received out-of-date medical reimbursement forms for years.

"Most veterans are not going to go online to see that its 41.5 cents per mile," Richards added. "Most (veterans) are just going to go by what they get in the mail." 

The 10 News Investigators reached out to Congressman Young's office again, but multiple messages went unreturned.

The VA issued a statement to 10 News admitting yet another mistake and its list of initiatives to correct it:

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has confirmed that Eligibility Verification Reports (EVRs) were mailed with an outdated version of VA Form 21-8416, Medical Expense Report, providing that the mileage rate for deductible transportation expenses for medical purposes was 28.5 cents rather than the correct rate of 41.5 cents.

We have contacted the three Pension Management Centers responsible for processing EVRs and informed them of the issue.  We have also alerted the National Call Centers regarding this issue so that they can reassure Veterans that VA is aware of the erroneous mailing and our actions to correct the problem.

We are also reviewing the process by which these recurring communications are mailed and regret any misunderstanding caused by this error. Our analysis indicates that the use of the outdated form will not cause errors in calculating the correct amount of unreimbursed medical expense deductions because the 41.5 cent rate for deductible transportation expenses has been in effect since January 1, 2009.

While the VA promises to fix any veterans' benefits submitted incorrectly, there are upwards of 600,000 possible victims who may not realize they aren't getting enough reimbursement for miles driven.

Connect with 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky or Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky.  Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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