Family wants state to change how it handles veterans’ pension benefits

The state's Veterans Affairs Committee will hear how, toward the end of his life, a World War II veteran became at risk of losing state aid due to a benefit he received from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The daughter of Herbert Schacht, who died in August 2017, plans to testify Thursday before the committee during a public hearing in Hartford in support of a bill that would prevent others from experiencing the stress her family underwent.

When Schacht was at the point of needing around-the-clock care, his family applied for a VA benefit to help pay for additional support. They'd promised him that they'd let him receive help at home for as long as possible, and the VA benefit made it financially possible for them to do that, his daughter Eileen Degaetano said.

The VA offers certain wartime veterans and their surviving spouses a pension benefit. In addition to the pension, veterans and their surviving spouses also can get an added benefit known as aid and attendance to pay for large medical expenses like long-term care at home.

But Connecticut, as Schacht's family found out, counts the pension portion of the money as part of a veteran's income. That increased Schacht's income threshold and made him ineligible for other state benefit programs he was using. The state excludes the aid and attendance portion of the money when determining eligibility for assistance programs.

Ultimately Schacht's access to state assistance was reinstated. But the family had to file an appeal with the state Department of Social Services and reapply for the state assistance he was getting, a stressful process, Degaetano said.

Although her father, the longtime head of Waterford Country School and a member of the state's Veterans Hall of Fame, has died, Degaetano still wants the issue resolved.

"Unless policy is changed, there's a barrier," she said by phone Wednesday.

Degaetano brought it to the attention of state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, who with Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, is sponsoring Senate Bill 146, which would disregard a veteran's pension benefits when determining income eligibility for certain state benefit programs.

Formica said only about 1,800 veterans statewide are affected by this issue, "so it's not a big fiscal ask."

"These are mostly folks who served honorably, World War II and Korea-era vets. This is something we can do fairly simply for them," he said by phone Wednesday.

The proposal came up in the General Assembly last year but didn't pass. In written testimony, the Department of Social Services said if it were to disregard the incomes from these pensions, the result would be increased eligibility and expenditures.

"The required funds for such increases are not in place or available at this time," the department said at the time.

The proposal will be one of about 15 taken up by the Veterans Affair Committee during its public hearing Thursday beginning at 10 a.m.


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