A program that recovers about $3 million a year from the estates of people who have died in one of Pennsylvania’s six state-owned nursing homes for veterans and their spouses could soon be in for some changes.
The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs’ “estate recovery program” has been an unwelcome surprise for some family members who were not aware of the state’s policy until their relative’s estate was settled.
The agency is vowing to improve its communications with residents and their family members, while some state lawmakers are pushing for closer scrutiny and considering legislative changes.
Unlike many other similar facilities, Pennsylvania’s veterans’ homes charge fees to residents based largely on income, not on assets. They then seek to recoup the full cost of care, if possible, after a resident dies.
Officials who oversee the veterans’ homes said at a recent state Senate hearing that they intended to improve their notification procedures in response to the complaints, but defended their practices as legal, fair and sensitive to residents and their families.
Karen Cline said she was surprised to receive a letter in February from a lawyer informing her that her uncle, Merle Rowe’s, stay at the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home in Blair County generated an unpaid bill of more than $300,000 by the time he died at age 88 in November 2009. The bill was more than the value of the World War II Army Air Corps veteran’s estate.
“They cleaned out everything,” said Cline, of Apollo, Armstrong County. “I know his cremation was paid for, but I still have his ashes to bury and I still have a stone to get. I would at least like to see that much come back.”
She was a beneficiary in the will, but knew he had concerns about his estate and believes the current system is broken.
“We had no idea this was happening,” Cline said. “There’s got to be a way to protect the veterans and their families from these money grabbers.”