EFFECTIVE DATE: 1/23/86
Whether the payment adjustment made by the Veterans Administration (VA) under its pension program in recognition of past unusual medical expenses qualifies as a third-party payment for medical care or services, and therefore, does not constitute income under the supplemental security income (SSI) program.
Section 1612(a)(2)(B) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1382a(a)(2)(B)); 20 C.F.R. 416.1102; 20 C.F.R. 416.1103(a); 20 C.F.R. 416.1120; 20 C.F.R. 416.1121(a)
NINTH (WASHINGTON, IDAHO, MONTANA, NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS, CALIFORNIA, OREGON, NEVADA, ARIZONA, ALASKA, HAWAII)
Summy v. Schweiker, 688 F.2d 1233 (9th Cir. 1982)
Evelyn Summy became eligible for SSI in November 1977. In January 1978, she submitted a claim to the VA with respect to unusual medical expenses she had incurred in 1977. As a result of the claim, the VA issued Ms. Summy a check for $286.32. The Secretary viewed this as unearned income under Section 1612(a)(2)(B) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 1382a(a)(2)(B). Section 1612(a)(2) provides that "unearned income means all other income, including -- (B) any payments received as an annuity, pension, retirement, or disability benefit, including veteran's compensation and pensions, . . ." The Secretary determined that the payment from the VA combined with Ms. Summy's other income rendered her ineligible for SSI for the first quarter of 1978.
Ms. Summy appealed the decision that the VA check represented countable unearned income to the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. The district court reversed the Secretary. The Secretary appealed the decision of the district court to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court.
The Ninth Circuit court held that the additional VA payment represented medical expense reimbursement and, since 20 C.F.R. 416.1109(a) exempted third-party reimbursement for medical expenses from income, the VA check should not result in a reduc- tion of Ms. Summy's SSI payment. The court reasoned that the VA merely reimbursed Ms. Summy for medical expenditures previously made over which she had little control. Consequently, the funds were not actually available, could not have been used by her to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter, and therefore, did not meet the definition of income under the Secretary's regulation at 20 C.F.R. 416.1102.
While the court held that reimbursement by VA for unusual medical expenses was not income which the Secretary could consider when making determinations of SSI eligibility and payment amount, it limited its holding to excluding from SSI income only those VA payments which it determined could qualify as third-party payments for medical care and services. The court held that the mere fact that an item is "not income" for VA pension purposes does not mean that the same item is "not income" for SSI purpos- es. The court further acknowledged the Secretary's right to require SSI applicants and recipients to furnish proof that particular receipts or items are not "income" for SSI purposes.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not view the additional VA payments resulting from unreimbursed medical expenses as payments for medical care. The payments are not made in order to assist the pensioner in obtaining medical care and are not in any way designated as reimbursement for medical care. They are therefore available for basic needs just like any other countable income. Under VA regulations (38 C.F.R. 3.272(g), implementing 38 U.S.C. 503(a)), income used for unusual medical expenses is not considered in counting an individual's income. The VA regulatory provision has the effect of reducing an individual's countable income for VA pension purposes thereby resulting in an increased VA pension. Thus, an additional VA payment represents an underpayment of VA benefits due the pen- sioner because his or her actual countable income is less than the amount originally used to compute the VA benefit.
The SSA's policy recognizes that the nature of an additional VA payment does not change because it was based on submission of unusual medical expenses. SSA's view is that a VA supplement predicated on unreimbursed medical expenses, just as a VA supple- ment based on any other type of recalculation, represents income available for meeting basic needs within the meaning of 20 C.F.R. 416.1102.
The Ninth Circuit's decision in Summy holds that reim- bursement by VA for unusual medical expenses incurred by pension- ers qualifies as a third-party payment for medical care or services and, therefore, is not available for meeting basic needs and is not "income" for purposes of SSI eligibility and payment amount.
This ruling applies only to cases where the individual resides in Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii or the Northern Mariana Islands at the time of the determination or decision at any level of administrative review, i.e., initial, reconsideration, administrative law judge hearing or Appeals Council review.
When a case involves an individual who has received an additional pension or compensation payment from the VA as a result of unreimbursed medical expenses, the additional pension or compen- sation payment from the VA is not income for SSI purposes.
Date of Publication
 Since Guam does not have an SSI program, it is not affected by this Acquiescence Ruling.
 The VA considers unreimbursed medical expenditures that exceed 5 percent of the applicable maximum annual VA payment rate to be unusual. The VA recomputes the individual's benefits for the year in which such expenditures occur by reducing countable income by the amount of the unusual expenses and issues any resulting underpayment to the pensioner.
 Determinations of SSI eligibility and payment amount were made on a quarterly basis prior to April 1982. Effective April 1982, such determinations are made on a monthly basis.
 20 C.F.R. 416.1109(a) (1980), which exempted third-party reim- bursement for medical expenses from income, was subsequently revised to clarify SSI policy. The revised regulation appears at 20 C.F.R. 416.1103(a). As revised, the regulation exempts "assistance provided in cash or in kind (including food, cloth- ing, or shelter) under a Federal, State, or local government program whose purpose is to provide medical care or services."
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