Too many veterans die while waiting for disability benefits

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller and Rep. Jackie Walorski introduced H.R. 4102, legislation that would make an award of VA benefits issued on or after the date of a veteran’s death payable to the veteran’s estate.

Under current law, only a veteran’s spouse, children under the age of 18, and parents are eligible to receive retroactive VA disability benefits compensation in the event of a veteran claimant’s death. Historically, approximately 2.6 percent of veterans with pending VA disability benefits compensation claims die while awaiting a claims decision, according to the department.

The bill was developed in response to the experience of Indianapolis veteran Shelton Hickerson and his daughter Sharon Hickerson Thurman. Shelton Hickerson filed a VA disability claim in 2000 that the department initially denied. After a more than a decade long appeal process, VA awarded Hickerson a 100 percent disability rating, with retroactive pay of $377,342 June 27, 2013. Unfortunately, Shelton Hickerson passed away the same day, and Sharon Hickerson was not eligible to receive the retroactive compensation because she was over the age of 18 and not otherwise dependent on her father.

This legislation would allow payments issued on the date of the veteran’s death to be awarded to the veterans estate, consistent with general principles of estate law.

After introducing the bill, Chairman Miller and Rep. Walorski issued the following statements:

“It‘s tragic enough that many veterans wait months and in some cases years while VA processes their claims and appeals. But the situation becomes heartbreaking when a veteran dies while waiting on the department to do its job. This bill would ensure that the Hickerson family and others like them receive the benefits their veteran dependents have earned and rightly deserve and eliminate the de facto penalty some families incur when their loved ones die while awaiting VA claims decisions.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

“Shelton Hickerson and his family deserved better. When our war fighters risk their lives for our nation and return home they should be immediately provided with proper benefits and care. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Mr. Hickerson, and has not been the case for many of our brave veterans. This legislation is a small way for us to bring some comfort to the families of veterans who are laid to rest before their VA claim is finalized.” – Rep. Jackie Walorski

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