In its response to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ proposed regulations that would establish a look-back period and asset transfer penalties for pension claimants, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys’ (NAELA) raises the prospect that the VA could be sued if the rules take effect.
Proposed § 3.276 would establish a 36-month look-back period and a penalty period of up to 10 years for those who dispose of assets to qualify for a VA pension. Currently, there is no prohibition on transferring assets prior to applying for needs-based benefits, such as Aid and Attendance.
“[W]e express the serious concern that the proposed rule’s 3-year look-back period and transfer of assets penalty exceed statutory authority, opening up VA to future litigation and causing additional uncertainty for Veterans and their families,” write Bradley J. Frigon, NAELA’s president, and Victoria Collier, Chair of NAELA’s VA Task Force, in March 17, 2015, comments on the proposed rules.
Frigon and Collier argue that the proposed rules do not meet the standard of either an explicit or implicit delegation by congressional statute that the U.S. Supreme Court set forth Chevron USA, Inc. v. NRDC, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). They point out that Congress had the opportunity from 2012 to 2014 to create Medicaid-like transfer rules but that each proposal died in session.
NAELA’s comments also maintain that the proposed transfer penalties exception is too narrow. “Veterans and their surviving spouses will be unjustly penalized for prior transfers that had absolutely nothing to do with VA pension eligibility,” Frigon and Collier write. “Gifts to children at holidays and birthdays will be penalized. Donations to places of worship will be penalized. Contributions to charities will be penalized. All because there is a presumption that the transfer was made for the purpose of qualifying for VA pension. . . . The final rule should require that transfers only made for the sole purpose of qualifying for VA pension be penalized.”
The 27-page comments highlight a number of other flaws in the proposed regulation, including that it should allow for partial cures, that the time allowed to cure transfers should be expanded, that the rule disproportionately harms surviving spouses of veterans, and that the proposed net worth limits are harsher than Medicaid’s limits.
To read NAELA’s comments, click here.
For the VA’s proposed regulations, click here. Comments must be received no later than Tuesday, March 24.