Veterans Affairs and Treasury Department leaders announced new plans Friday to get coronavirus stimulus checks to veterans who may have missed out on the initial wave of payments because they don’t typically file tax returns or collect Social Security benefits.
Federal officials said veterans who receive compensation and pension benefit payments from VA will be sent the money “without additional paperwork or IRS filings” thanks to a new system set up by the government agencies.
“Many have expressed concern that veterans and their beneficiaries would be overlooked during the distribution of (coronavirus) Economic Impact Payments simply because they don’t file an annual tax return,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “This collaboration will ensure our veterans receive (those) payments without any additional action.”
At issue is how the stimulus checks — up to $1,200 for individuals, plus $500 more per dependent, according to household family income — have been distributed in recent days.
Millions of Americans received the payments this week based on their 2018 and 2019 tax returns, deposited directly into bank accounts linked to their past IRS filings.
However, many disabled veterans typically are not required to file annual tax returns. As a result, their families may not have any up-to-date account linked to the Treasury Department, raising questions about how they would receive their payouts.
The new system links existing VA records with the IRS check distribution programs, identifying veterans who are eligible for the stimulus money but may have slipped through the bureaucratic cracks.
VA officials said the payments will be automatic for non-tax filing VA beneficiaries. However, individuals who have not filed a tax return and have a dependent will need to visit the IRS web site and update their account to reflect the extra money owed.
The potential loss of stimulus payments to tens of thousands of veterans had raised alarms within the veterans community in recent days. Joe Chenelly, national executive director of AMVETS, praised Friday’s move as an important step towards helping veterans.
“This is exactly what we've been asking the federal government to do since back when the CARES Act was just a bill,” he said.
“We realize this has been a complicated process. The VA ended up being stuck in the middle, trying to coordinate with the IRS and the Treasury in ways they normally do. These veterans need the relief now, and many had no idea what they needed to do to receive it.”
Chenelly noted that federal officials still need to work to inform veterans about the change, to alleviate fears about missing the checks, and to make sure veterans know how to file for dependent claims if applicable.
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., similarly praised the announcement.
“Thanks to today’s decision, veterans and their families who didn’t file tax returns in the past two years will receive their stimulus checks without any additional steps or burdensome paperwork," he said in a statement. “This decision will help rapidly deliver aid to the pocketbooks of veterans and their families — the result of a hard fought effort to prioritize relief for those who need it the most.”
More information on the economic impact payments is available on the IRS web site.
More than 660,000 Americans have been sickened by the fast-spreading coronavirus in the last few weeks, and nearly 29,000 have died from the illness. Attempts to limit the rate of infection have closed numerous businesses across the country, prompting historic increases in unemployment claims.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.