Dewey Sizemore of Athens has put up a sign and collected nearly 1,000 signatures for a petition at the south Walmart in Cleveland. He hopes to gather 3,000 signatures. He is not asking for monetary help of any kind.
He plans to send the petition to his congressman to get help. Congressmen can file an inquiry into why a veteran has not received a waiver for repayment of overages.
On May 4, Sizemore received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs Debt Management Center in St. Paul, Minn.
The letter stated, “The Department of Veterans Affairs paid you benefits to which you were not entitled. We asked you to pay the debt in full or contact this office to establish a repayment plan. The balance on your account is $1,059.”
The letter was not signed.
“I’m a World War II veteran. They’ve taken my pension from me and have threatened to take my Social Security,” Sizemore said. “I asked the VA to show me where I owe them $1,059.”
According to Bradley County Service officer Joe Davis, if a veteran does not set up a repayment plan, pension benefits may be withheld until the amount is paid back.
When veterans receive initial notification of an overage of benefits, they have 90 days to file a disagreement with the assessment. Davis said the letter sounds more threatening than it is.
“If it’s a small amount of money, they will just withhold a small amount of money until it is paid back,” Davis said. “I’ve seen them go as low as $50.”
Davis said Sizemore could apply for a waiver of repayment.
Sometimes changes in a veteran’s income, such as a spouse receiving Social Security benefits that were not included in the initial assessment, can be the reason for the VA saying the veteran was awarded too much money.
“That’s the most common thing I’ve seen, is they don’t report their spouse’s Social Security,” Davis said.
He said only if a veteran did not respond at all would the entire monthly amount be held to repay the balance.
Sizemore said he visited the McMinn County VA office in Athens about the issue.
“I don’t owe them anything. I only get $500 a month. How could I owe them anything?” Sizemore said.
Later, he said his wife drawing Social Security before she passed away might have been a factor. However, he still felt he should have received the amount listed.
The Athens office gave him a form to fill out in order to apply for a waiver.
Previous dealings with VA forms have made him leery of the time they take to be processed. Sizemore claims that although he first applied for pension benefits in 1990, he did not begin receiving them until this year.
The McMinn County VA said it could not comment to the Cleveland Daily Banner about Sizemore because of HIPPA and privacy laws.
Davis said if the request is not complete in a year, the claim is “finalized and they have to apply again to have it reopened.”
“It’s a quite complex thing,” Davis said.
Letters such as the one Sizemore received are not uncommon for veterans. Davis said he had worked with veterans in Bradley County this week who received letters stating they had been awarded more funds than they should have been.
During the war, Sizemore served in the Navy Seabees for three years. Later he joined the Army Air Force.
Cathi Crumley was one person who stopped on a hot day in June to add her name to the list.
She also voiced her anger at how the government was treating veterans.
“We should support our veterans .… My daddy-in-law was a veteran. He was in World War II too. They didn’t do nothing for him either. They sent him I think it was a little $98 check a month. That’s all the man got, and his elbow was wired together and everything, and he had to fight [for those benefits],” Crumley said.
Crumley said she felt the country should be doing more for those who have served in the military.
“When they come home, if they don’t have a place to go they need to build them a house, give them the land and support them for the rest of their lives. They supported the wars. They supported all of us. If it wasn’t for our veterans and our troops, we wouldn’t be here,” Crumley said.
Veteran pensions are based on financial need.
Applying for pension benefits involves filling out the required forms with the local Veterans Affairs office. The local office then sends the paperwork to the Pension Management Center in Milwaukee, for consideration.
Davis said the center looks at a veteran’s income, out-of -pocket expense, dependents and net financial worth when determining whether to approve pension benefits. If a veteran’s income is above the maximum income limits, they will not receive pension benefits.
Davis said local veterans affairs service officers can help veterans fill out the forms and determine out-of-pocket expense to qualify.
The process usually takes six months. Davis said sometimes there are complications that prolong the process. The longest he has seen the process take was a year and a half.
“They died before they got their pension,” Davis said.
Bradley County veterans needing to work out pension issues can contact the Bradley County Veterans affairs office at 423-728-7100. Walk-ins are also welcome at the office in the Bradley County Courthouse.
Veterans can also receive help in the process of understanding and addressing questions with their pensions at the Tennessee Department of Veteran Affairs field office in Chattanooga. The office can be reached at 423-634-7123.
Yvette Martinez, TDVA assistant commissioner of Outreach and Communications, said the field offices, as well as the county departments, exist to be a partner for veterans as they traverse the complex paperwork.
“If they are in need and, they mostly are, we will fill out a waiver and list their financial assets that they have now, and then they will make a decision about the waiver,” Davis said.
The state field office can also work with people who have received letter similar to Sizemore’s.
“Our people can look up their information and tell them why they are getting this,” Martinez said.
Field office personnel can also gather information and evidence of why the veteran does not owe the money in question.
“There are so many veterans who don’t know where to go,” Martinez said.
Personnel at each of the county offices are trained by the state veterans affairs office.
Anyone can apply for a waiver and decisions are made at the national level on a case-by case basis.
Davis said he has seen instances where the veterans simply did not realize they were “awarded too much money” and kept it.