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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affair Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric Shinseki urging him to increase the amount of assets a spouse of a veteran receiving VA long-term care is able to protect to current levels. Currently, the allowance is based on the amount allowed under Medicaid programs in 2002 and has not been adjusted for increases in the cost of living. The letter also advises Secretary Shinseki to index the allowance for the future to offset the effects of inflation. The change would affect the spouses of veterans who are receiving long-term care.

“As a result of Committee oversight, I learned that the spouses of veterans who are required to make co-payments for VA extended care are allowed to keep less in financial resources than are the spouses of Medicaid recipients. I do not believe that this inequity was VA’s intent at the time the applicable regulation was issued, and I urge you to eliminate this harmful discrepancy,” wrote Senator Murray.

Full text of the letter is below:

May 9, 2011
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420 

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

As a result of Committee oversight, I learned that the spouses of veterans who are required to make co-payments for VA extended care are allowed to keep less in financial resources than are the spouses of Medicaid recipients. I do not believe that this inequity was VA’s intent at the time the applicable regulation was issued, and I urge you to eliminate this harmful discrepancy.  

I served on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs when we considered and reported legislation to mandate extended care to certain veterans. Enacted as the Veterans Millennium Health Care and Benefits Act, Public Law 106-117, I fully expected that VA would take the needs of the spouse of such veterans into account when establishing co-pays and the amount of exempted financial resources.

The VA set the spousal resource protection amount at $89,289, basing the figure on the amount allowed by 23 State Medicaid programs in calendar year 2002. While Medicaid programs have continued to adjust the allowable amount to offset the effects of inflation -- the allowable amount for 2011 is $109,560 -- the comparable amount for the spouses of our veterans in extended-care facilities remains frozen at the 2002 level.

Unlike the VA, Medicaid indexes its spousal allowance. I believe that the spouses of our veterans receiving extended care should receive no less and therefore hope that you will consider raising the spousal resource protection amount and indexing it for the future. As many of the veterans in extended-care facilities are exempt from co-payments, I believe that the cost of doing so would be minimal. I am enclosing a memo prepared by Committee staff that may be of assistance to your staff. 

Thank you for your consideration of my request. I am confident that, working together, we can ensure that the spouses of veterans who receive extended care can avoid depleting assets urgently needed for their own retirement years.        

Sincerely,

Patty Murray
Chairman