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VFW: VA Turned 'Blind Eye' to Insurer Profiteering Off Survivors

Department of Veterans Affairs

One of the country's largest veterans' organizations says it has uncovered proof that that the Veterans Affairs Department agreed to an insurance policy payout system that gave Prudential Insurance Co. an edge in holding onto survivor's money rather than pay it out in a lump sum.

A 2009 document shows that that VA allowed Prudential to pay benefits in the form of an account that survivors could draw on rather than a single payment, as the law governing Service Group Life Insurance and Veterans Group Life Insurance required.

"The documents speak for themselves, and they show that Prudential initiated this program for the money that could be gained, not to help grieving military families -- and the VA knew all about it," VFW National Commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr. said. "For an insurance company to profit off the dead is sickening, but for our own government to turn a blind eye to profiteering is something entirely else."

A spokesperson for the department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among the 3,600 pages of documents acquired by the VFW is one detailing a plan wherein account managers were encouraged to increase earnings by holding onto control of client -- that is beneficiary -- money.

The document includes a subtitle stating "It's About Money," Biedrzycki said in a statement Tuesday.

Another document reveals Prudential trained personnel on how to deal with survivors who insist on a lump-sum payout rather than leaving the money with Prudential and drawing on it in much the same way they would a savings or checking account.

Biedrzycki is calling for an independent investigation into the Prudential/VA arrangement and for the SGLI and VGLI contracts to be awarded to another company.

The VFW got involved in the case in 2010 and filed a motion for the documents release two years ago.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in 2009 with the U.S. District Court in Springfield, Massachusetts, alleged Prudential collected interest from unpaid life-insurance benefits by encouraging beneficiaries to leave the money in so-called Alliance Accounts rather than taking lump-sum payments.

By investing the money, Prudential made hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the complaint.

Biedrzycki said Tuesday that he knows that if he leaves his money in a savings account he will earn "far less interest than what the bank earns" by holding onto it.

"But the difference is I know that," he said. "Grieving beneficiaries may not."

The lawsuit was settled in 2014 when the insurer paid out a $40 million settlement, but did not acknowledge any wrongdoing. The VFW continued to demand release of the documents, however, arguing that they would enable families and the public to better understand what the company did in connection with its administering of federally subsidized life insurance programs.

Biedrzycki said a judge's ruling in August required Prudential to disclose all but 16 of the documents.

"[That] now makes the VFW very suspicious of what's still being kept from the public, because what has been disclosed so far paints a picture of institutional greed with the government's approval," he said.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com.