Sarah Wade, coordinator for family issues and traumatic brain injury for the Wounded Warriors Project, Jacob Gadd, The American Legion’s assistant director for program management in its Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, and Vivianne Wersel, chair of the government relations committee for Gold Star Wives of America, Inc. testify before a House subcommittee on ways to improve VA’s fiduciary program for veterans receiving benefits.

Problems with VBA's fiduciary program

Speaking to a House subcommittee Thursday, Jacob Gadd of The American Legion's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division said the Veterans Business Administration needs to speed up its process of appointing fiduciaries to handle the finances of veterans who are mentally incapable of managing their own benefits.

Gadd told the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs that many veterans continue to suffer hardship because of the time VBA takes to process fiduciary applications and approve them.

In one of VBA's offices, according to Gadd, more than 100 cases have been waiting 3-12 months for final approval. "In another case, the fiduciary process took four years," Gadd told the subcommittee chaired by Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y.

A key problem in getting VBA to process such approvals more quickly, Gadd explained, is its work-credit system. "VA workers receive credit for processing the case within the 45-day period. If a case is not completed during the 45-day period, there are (no longer) any work credits or staff initiative to get the case finalized."

American Legion service officers who work with veterans and their families have documented many problems with the current fiduciary program, including one case where "a (Legion) service officer in a pension-management center helped schedule a fiduciary field exam because the veteran had been waiting for over four years."

"Mr. Chairman, this is unconscionable that a veteran's claim can be delayed for this period of time," Gadd said. "Our nation's veterans and their beneficiaries deserve better."

Several American Legion service officers have witnessed firsthand some of the fiduciary program's difficulties. One service officer told Legion officials that "it's difficult for veterans to contact anyone in the Fiduciary Hub (in Salt Lake City) because they do not have a ‘public contact' number dedicated solely to fiduciary issues, and the general VA public contact line can only provide limited information."

In his testimony, Gadd offered several American Legion recommendations to improve the fiduciary program: hire full-time employees solely dedicated to program management and oversight, enhance communications between key offices with better IT/software support, provide more effective phone access to veterans service officers, and create a national toll-free phone service for family members and the general public.

The American Legion also recommended that Congress direct VA to establish a pilot program for training volunteers to become fiduciaries. "The American Legion has over 6,000 volunteers that serve veterans every day in the community," Gadd said.

Besides Gadd, other expert panelists who testified included Sarah Wade, coordinator of family issues and traumatic brain injury for the Wounded Warrior Project; Vivianne Wersel, government relations committee chair for Gold Star Wives of American, Inc.; Belinda Finn, from VA's Office of Inspector General; and Bradley Mayes, director of VBA's Compensation and Pension Service.