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VA Secretary Suggests Cut to Unemployability Benefit

Asserting that it doesn’t make sense to average Americans to pay unemployment benefits to persons 80 years of age and older, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has proposed cutting the Individual Unemployability benefit for disabled veterans once they qualify for Social Security. According to the Daily Courier, the mere suggestion of cuts to IU has many veterans’ advocates worried.

Shulkin said the move would save the VA about $3.2 million in 2018. Veterans who are unable to collect Social Security would be exempt from the cuts. The IU program has come into question even though the VA’s discretionary budget is set to rise $4.4 billion. But Shulkin has previously stated his belief that the agency’s “problems are not largely going to be solved through additional money.”

Secretary Shulkin has received bipartisan praise for his aggressive approach to solving the VA’s structural and managerial problems. But many veterans and their advocates see this suggested change as one that could actually hurt veterans. Opponents point out that veterans who have been receiving IU have not been paying into Social Security and are unlikely to have 401(k) savings or other retirement funds.

The Daily Courier correctly points out that “To be eligible for IU, veterans must have one service-connected disability of 60 percent or higher or multiple service-connected disabilities that total 70 percent or more, with at least one having a rating of 40 percent. The VA says disabilities must be service-connected and prevent the veteran from maintaining ‘substantially gainful employment.’ Odd jobs and other ‘marginal employment’ do not count as gainful employment, according to the VA.”  A loss of IU’s substantial monthly benefit could inflict severe financial hardship on veterans and their families.

We hope that Secretary Shulkin will resist any changes that put veterans at risk. If IU needs to be reformed, changes should be phased in so they don’t affect elderly veterans already dependent on IU and mature veterans who have a reasonable expectation that IU will be there for them in old age.

If you or a veteran you love has trouble accessing VA disability benefits, Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban is prepared to help anywhere in the United States. Call us at 866-866-VETS or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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