Senators, VSOs to VA: Work with IRS to ensure all veterans get federal $1,200 relief checks

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Leading Veterans Affairs lawmakers in the Senate and top national Veteran Service Organizations are calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that all eligible veterans can receive federal relief checks during the coronavirus pandemic.

Senators Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Jon Tester, D-Mont., who lead the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, urged the VA Under Secretary for Benefits Dr. Paul Lawrence to create a plan between VA and the IRS to ensure veterans and other VA beneficiaries who don't have to file tax returns still get the checks without additional red tape. 

VSOs representing millions of veterans nationwide also sent a letter to VA and the Treasury Department urging them to take "whatever actions necessary to identify and electronically pay" the relief to veterans who do not file tax returns. Those groups included: Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, Fleet Reserve Association, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, Blinded Veterans of America and the Military Order of the Purple Heart. 

Not all veterans or their beneficiaries file annual taxes. But the government plans to primarily use prior tax filings to determine eligibility and where to send the federal coronavirus relief payments.

Those payments are about $1,200 for those whose taxable income is lower than $75,000 and were approved under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress and signed into law by the president last month. 

For veterans, it should be the same -- so long as a veteran's total taxable income is lower than $75,000 per year and no one claims them as a dependent, they should receive the checks. The government plans to use the most recently available prior tax returns to determine income and direct deposit information or a recent address to make the payments. 

But for veterans or their surviving family members who don't file taxes, things could be more complicated. 

"We are gravely concerned that absent quick and decisive action from the administration, millions of seriously disabled veterans, their survivors and caregivers – who are among the most vulnerable Americans during the ongoing coronavirushealth crisis – may never receive this critical financial support," the VSOs wrote in their joint letter. 

“We’re glad VA is committed to working as quickly as possible to disburse economic stimulus payments directly to qualifying veterans,” the Senators said in a joint statement. “In addition, leveraging existing resources and data with the IRS will reduce bureaucratic hurdles for our veterans and get them the needed CARES Act relief money faster.”

This week, the IRS announced it planned to use existing Social Security Administration records to send payments to Social Security recipients who did not file tax returns. The Senators and VSOs called on VA to work with the IRS to do the same for veterans who receive disability, pension or GI Bill benefits to ensure they are not left out of the relief checks. 

"Secretary Mnuchin and Secretary Wilkie, while there may be logistical or even legal obstacles to overcome, it is critically important that you and your Departments work together to prevent potentially millions of disabled veterans and their survivors from losing this financial support," the VSOs wrote.

"Veterans without income tax liabilities should not have to go through the burdensome process of filing even an abbreviated return to receive this CARES Act benefit," the senators said. "This will be particularly difficult during a time when Taxpayer Assistance Centers are closed and important social distancing efforts will prevent taxpayer advocates and other resources from helping veterans."

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