Gulf War veteran Timothy Lake was caught in a federal bureaucratic vise when he called DAV for help. The VA had granted service connection for his disabilities, but his compensation was tied up because of a federal law that limits deposits to prepaid credit and money cards, and he was facing a looming deadline for losing his home and car for nonpayment.
Detroit National Service Office Supervisor Douglas Wells Jr. received Lake’s call for help. “Tim said that he was going to have to move his mobile home from the rented lot within two weeks, and his car was being repossessed,” Wells said. “His VA benefit check had been sent as an electronic funds transfer instead of a check, which Lake had requested, and it had been rejected.”
Lake’s wife, who suffers from a debilitating illness, had lost some of her federal benefits, and soaring medical care costs for her and two of their four children had exhausted their financial reserves. The former U.S. Army infantry staff sergeant had served for more than 15 years and was struggling after falling months behind in rent and car payments.
“We were behind in everything — electricity, gas,” he said. “It was a lot of debt that I planned to repay with my retroactive disability compensation.” The problem was a federal law that limits deposits to credit or money cards. Daily deposit limits for such cards range from $500 to $9,500, and maximum deposit balances from $2,500 to $10,000.
Under the law, when a direct deposit exceeds the federal limit, it is returned to the issuer, such as the VA. Once denied, the VA stops payment on retroactive compensation and any additional benefits Lake would have received. By September, Lake had only days to pay his debts with limited income, and his disability benefits stalled.
“We always place a high level of importance on our veterans’ needs, but his was critical,” Wells said. “It makes you want to knock on every VA door to make something happen.
We did that, and made VA aware of this veteran’s personal needs. We even talked to the assistant service center manager of the regional office in order to get payments to Lake.”
When seeking a check for Lake, DAV found it would arrive too late to help the veteran avoid losing his home and car. Lake had to open a traditional bank account for the direct deposit. By then, a routine VA direct deposit of benefits would have been too late to help, and the significantly greater retroactive benefits were still being withheld by VA.
Wells and his staff worked with the VA as days dwindled for Lake to make payments. Through the extraordinary efforts of Wells and his staff, the VA expedited the funds transfer two days later and, with one day left, all the benefits were deposited in Lake’s new account.
“These prepaid money cards have led to a lot of new problems,” Wells said. “These accounts have resulted in the VA stopping any payments from going to veterans until they meet the federal regulations.”
“Initially, after the retroactive payment had been denied, I was facing months to clear it up,” said Lake. “We were working hard, but medical bills had taken the greatest share of our income.
“Just as faithfully as DAV represented me in my claim, they chased down the payments and got the funds into my new account. I was touched by all they did,” Lake said.
“We are hearing that many veterans are encountering problems with VA benefits going to these prepaid cards,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski. “It’s usually best for a veteran to have a traditional checking or savings account that can streamline direct deposits by the VA.”
“All our National Service Officers are being made aware of the problems and lengthy delays that can result,” National Service Director Garry Augustine said. “They will be advising veterans how to best set up an error-free payment system for their earned benefits.”
“Helping Tim was a gratifying experience,” said Wells. “Whenever you can help someone save their lifestyle, especially when their problems are based on serviceconnected injuries or illness, you want to do everything possible to help. He earned his benefits, and he waited 18 months going through the claims process.”
“DAV worked when no one else seemed to want to,” said Lake. “We had spoken to others in seeking help, but DAV took the process over and made it easy.
“I thank DAV, and I can say they work harder and better than anyone else,” he said. “Doug Wells was on point.
“When you transition from the military to the VA, there’s a big cultural shock. There’s no one to ask a question. DAV gives you someone you can talk to.”
Today, Lake and his family are doing well, and he’s an enthusiastic DAV member. “If it wasn’t for DAV, we would be in real trouble.”
“We are gratified by Tim Lake’s kind support,” Jesinoski said. “It is our mission to do our best for the men and women who served our nation.”
“The service and support given by our NSOs is superb and only an example of what they do every day to help veterans,” added Augustine. “They are the best advocates veterans can have facing the daunting VA benefits system. They stand by our veterans and go the distance for those we represent.”
What Lake admired most was that he was treated with respect and dignity. “DAV is a personal program,” he said. “Not only does DAV take care of me, but they are taking care of hundreds of thousands of other veterans — each on a personal basis. It’s really an outstanding organization.”