Nearly 40,000 low-income veterans and their survivors receiving federal pensions may owe money because of accounting errors made over the last 12 years, but Veterans Affairs officials said they don’t plan on collecting that debt for now.
The episode is the latest computer systems headache for the department, which has seen a series of benefits mistakes due to glitches in recent months.
Department officials on Friday said they recently discovered that tens of thousands of pension recipients “may have debts that have not yet been established” because of overpayments due to past mistakes in their self-reported income levels. The pension payment issue dates back to 2011.
VA officials said “due to discrepancies in data matching,” department staffers were for years unable to verify the actual income of pension recipients. When new tools were made available in July 2022, they found that 9,900 beneficiaries were being overpaid, some for more than a decade.
“As legally required, VA established debts for these veterans and survivors, meaning that VA determined that the amount of the overpayments was due back to VA,” the department said in a statement outlining the problems.
But that work also uncovered about 30,000 additional beneficiaries who may have pension debts as well. VA officials are still sorting through their records to see how many individuals were overpaid.
“Many of these veterans and survivors are elderly, and all are low-income, so these debts represent a significant hardship,” the department’s statement said. “Recognizing the hardship and distress that these pension debts may cause, VA has paused the collection of all established pension debts and the establishment of new pension debts while we determine the path forward.”
Monthly pensions for the low-income individuals can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $5,000, depending on beneficiaries’ income and other support services.
Officials plan on contacting the veterans and survivors in coming weeks to explain the situation and “provide as much pension debt relief as possible.” Leaders also promised “a review to understand why the data discrepancies occurred and why it took so long to address.”
The situation echoes problems uncovered by VA staffers in August and September. About 90,000 veterans who filed disability claims through the department’s online portals, attempted to use the online systems to add dependents to their existing claims, or filed appeals applications had their cases lost in VA’s computer systems.
Some of those problems also dated back to 2011. In the wake of those discoveries, VA leadership appeared before congressional committees and promised system-wide improvements to ensure that veterans’ cases will not be lost or ignored in the future.
Veterans with questions about financial aid or debt management issues can visit the department’s website or call 800-827-0648.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.