What Is a VA Fiduciary?
A United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) fiduciary helps veterans manage their finances and VA benefits. This is helpful for veterans with mesothelioma who are coping with severe disabilities caused by the cancer and its treatment. It is also available to veterans with other diseases caused by asbestos, including asbestos-related lung cancer and asbestosis.
It is common for mesothelioma to cause acute pain and limit the veteran’s ability to perform daily activities, such as taking care of their financial affairs. A fiduciary can take over the burden of managing finances and also help the veteran maximize the VA benefits available to them.
Some terms helpful in understanding the VA Fiduciary Program include:
- Fiduciary: A fiduciary is most often the veteran’s spouse or family member. They are usually selected by the veteran and approved by the VA. The VA or a court may appoint a fiduciary in certain cases, but this is not common.
Beneficiary: The veteran receiving benefits from the VA is a beneficiary. The veteran’s dependents may also be referred to as beneficiaries.
Dependent: A dependent is a spouse or child of the veteran who is dependent on the veteran for financial support.
Relative: A relative is most often selected as a fiduciary for a veteran because they have knowledge of the veteran’s financial affairs and health needs. They are often the most trustworthy option to keep the veteran’s best interests at heart.
Responsibility of a VA Fiduciary
The responsibilities of a VA fiduciary include:
- Managing Finances: One of the primary responsibilities of a fiduciary is helping the veteran manage their financial affairs and allocating funds for living expenses such as groceries, basic needs for personal care, health care costs and housing expenses.
Maintaining Records: Fiduciaries must keep up with receipts and financial records, which may need to be submitted to the VA from time to time.
Allocating Excess Funds: The fiduciary will also need to place excess funds into a bank account or U.S. saving bonds.
Returning Any Owed Funds: If a person stops serving as the fiduciary or the veteran doesn’t need some of the funds they are receiving, they are required to return any unused funds.
Keeping the VA Updated: Fiduciaries must keep the VA updated on the veteran’s contact information, income level, number of dependents, hospitalization at a VA health care facility, death of the beneficiary or their dependents and whether the veteran no longer needs a fiduciary if their health improves.
Protecting the Veteran’s Funds: Fiduciaries are also required to protect the veteran’s funds from creditors because these funds are protected by law.
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Benefits of a VA Fiduciary for a Veteran with Mesothelioma
Veterans with mesothelioma coping with severe disabilities can benefit from electing a fiduciary who can manage their finances and ensure they get the most out of their VA benefits.
These veterans have access to many different programs within the VA, such as a VA disability claim for their cancer, VA Aid and Attendance benefits, heath care, Geriatrics and Extended Care benefits, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation claims, a VA pension and other benefit programs.
Applying for these programs and making sure they get the most out of them can feel overwhelming to a veteran coping with pain and side effects caused by mesothelioma and its treatment. In 2022, the VA updated its guidelines on the fiduciary appointment process.
Compensation provided by the VA may help veterans afford living expenses, health care expenses, rehabilitation therapies, burial expenses, caregiver support and financial support for their dependents.
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VA Fiduciary Eligibility
Family members of the veteran are the most commonly appointed VA fiduciaries. Friends and professional fiduciaries may also be appointed.
Those eligible to become a fiduciary include:
- Spouses of Veterans: Spouses have the most knowledge of the veteran and their financial affairs, which makes them an ideal fiduciary if they feel capable of taking on the role.
Other Family Members: It is also common for others family members, such as adult children of the veteran or siblings of the veteran, to serve as the fiduciary.
Friends: A close friend of the veteran may also become a fiduciary.
Professional Fiduciary: In some cases, veterans choose to appoint a professional fiduciary if a family member or friend cannot fulfill the role.
Court-Appointed Fiduciary: In certain cases, the court will appoint a fiduciary.
The VA will schedule a field examination meeting with the veteran and the fiduciary of their choice. The field examiner will help determine if the chosen fiduciary is the best option for the veteran.
During the meeting the examiner will review the veteran’s financial information and their VA benefits information. It is important for the veteran and their chosen fiduciary to arrive at the meeting with all relevant financial details at hand, such as their income, personal assets, bank statements and recurring expenses.
If the VA determines the veteran needs a fiduciary, but the veteran disagrees and wishes to handle their finances and benefits on their own, they can appeal the VA’s decision.
A veteran has two options to appeal:
- Ask a senior reviewer at the VA to conduct a Higher-Level Review. To do this, they’ll need to complete VA Form 20-0996. With this type of review, no new evidence is submitted and the decision may be changed on a difference of opinion or an error. They will talk over the phone with the reviewer and make their case for why the decision should be appealed.
- Appeal to a judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington, D.C. With this appeal, they have three options:
- Request a Direct Review: A veterans law judge will review the appeal based only on evidence that has already been submitted. This option takes about a year for the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to complete.
- Submit More Evidence: They may submit more evidence for a judge to review with this option, and the evidence must be submitted within 90 days of their submission of VA Form 10182. This option usually takes more than a year to complete.
- Request a Hearing: They may request a hearing with a veterans law judge and can submit evidence at the hearing or within 90 days of the hearing. The hearing may be conducted virtually, through videoconference at a nearby VA location or in person with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington, D.C. This option will take more than a year.
Filing to Become a VA Fiduciary
The application process begins with the fiduciary completing VA Form 21P-4706b, which is also known as the VA Fiduciary’s Account (Fillable) form. The fiduciary will provide a variety of financial information about the veteran in this form. The form must be signed by the fiduciary before submission.
The VA will review the application form and may request that the fiduciary submit other forms to support the claim, such as:
- VA Form 21-686c: The Declaration of Status of Dependents form is used to determine marital status and eligibility of dependents.
VA Form 28-8890: The Important Information About Rehabilitation Benefits form provides information about the services and therapies that help a veteran get and keep a job or perform daily living activities with more independence.
VA Form 21-8940: The Veteran’s Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability is used to apply for increased asbestos compensation options. It is based on a veteran’s inability to secure gainful employment because of a service-connected disability.
There is a separate form for when a court determines the veteran needs a fiduciary. This form is known as VA Form 21P-4706c. It is common for a court-appointed fiduciary to complete this form.
Because the VA wants to ensure the fiduciary is performing the job well and looking after the best interests of the veteran, it performs ongoing reviews. This ensures accountability and prevents the misuse of benefits, which protects the veteran and their financial assets.