Now legally blind at age 83, George lived alone in an apartment in a local elderly housing complex. A monthly pension from the Veterans Administration was his sole source of income. George’s daughter contacted MetroWest Legal Services on her father's behalf to dispute the rent amount. Upon review, MWLS learned that the VA had cut George’s income in half (from $2600 to $1300) to recover prior benefits paid to George. First, MWLS convinced the housing authority to adjust the rent amount and charge George rent based only on the income he actually received.
Next, George’s MWLS attorney reviewed the VA’s reduction of George’s income. The VA had determined that George had received $147,000 in benefits from December 2001 through April 2008 while he had an outstanding arrest warrant. They claimed he could not collect those benefits due to a federal law enacted in December 2001 which barred an individual from receiving a federal benefit if there was a felonious warrant in effect. The VA initially recouped all of George’s benefits (thus depriving George of all his income) from August 2008 through July 2010 and then reinstated half of his benefits a month later. George spent his life savings and borrowed money from family to support himself during the two years he was without income. The letter sent by the VA said only that George was denied benefits due to a warrant and never mentioned that the warrant had to involve a felony.
George had no knowledge of an outstanding warrant when he received the VA’s letter. The court file, which dated back to 1997, revealed a charge of Operating after Suspension of License. The warrant issued was due to George’s failure to pay a $100 court fine that was assessed for that offense. In sum, George stood to lose or repay $147,000 in benefits due to failing to pay a $100 court fine.
A review of the federal law led to the conclusion that George’s warrant was not a felonious warrant and thus did not make him ineligible for his VA income. MWLS contacted the VA and documented his court offense and disposition, and argued that he remained eligible for his benefits. In short order, the VA reversed their decision, reinstated his full benefits, and repaid him withheld monies totaling $72,000.