Benefits Cut For Veterans And Widows

Posted: April 18, 1991

With patriotism and support of the military at a peak, 4,000 veterans and widows of veterans across the state who live in nursing homes have gotten a little surprise.

It's from the state. And, in effect, it's a bill.

Through a little-noticed emergency regulation issued by the state Public Welfare Department, the veterans and widows have been advised that the state will no longer let them keep so-called aid and attendance benefit checks that range from $50 to $356 per month.

Instead, under the regulations, the monthly checks will help defray the costs of the nursing home care provided under the state and federally funded Medicaid program. By the force of simple mathematics that will save the financially strapped state about $8.3 million a year. By the same simple calculation, it will take the same amount from the patients, leaving them with $30 a month each in spending money.

The emergency cutback is one of a series of savings measures being implemented by the state in the face of a more than $1 billion deficit.

Welfare spokeswoman Vicki Smink said the cut was justified because the state already required those in veterans hospitals to make the same contribution toward the cost of their care. It is, she said, a matter of equity.

But the concept of equity has a different meaning for Genevieve Ginley, 74, whose husband went off to war nearly 50 years ago.

Now a resident of Immaculate Mary Home in Northeast Philadelphia near Holme Circle, Ginley only got word of the cut as it was about to be implemented. The emergency regulation went into effect March 1.

"They were so arrogant about it," she said, "especially with all that's been going on with the Persian Gulf. I cannot believe this country supports taking benefits away from veterans at a time when we are supposed to be especially grateful."

Her husband, a medic, was injured in Belgium. He never recovered from the wounds, never even made it home.

Ginley, who was getting about $200 a month in aid and assistance, will now get $30, just like all other Medicaid patients in nursing homes.

"I'm distressed. I'll be penniless. You can't subsist on that," she said in a recent interview.

She fears that without the money she'll no longer be able to remain active in a group of nursing home residents, the Coalition of Resident Councils, advocating the rights of nursing home residents.

Ginley's case, advocacy groups contend, is not unique.

According to Lisa Day of Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, about 60 veterans and widows have lost benefits in the city alone. She and others note the regulations were adopted by the state on an emergency basis and were in effect before most of those affected even knew about it.

Arnold Phillips, 64, a resident of Rittenhouse Care Center in Philadelphia, was getting $145 a month before he got the notice that he'd get only $30.

An Army veteran confined to a wheelchair, Phillips used the $145 a month in aid and attendance benefits to pay for transportation to board meetings of the Coalition of Advocates for the Rights of the Infirm Elderly. He's also used the money for clothes to attend those meetings and other events. He's even passed along a few dollars to his granddaughter on occasion.

His appearance, Phillips said, is a matter of pride and he says he'll be forced to quit his board position if he can't dress properly.

Day, the legal services lawyer, said the opponents of the cutback had taken their case to Harrisburg and were hopeful the General Assembly will pass a resolution to void the controversial regulation. The matter is pending before the state House.

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