The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs failed to inform 6 million soldiers and their families of an agreement enabling Prudential Financial Inc. to withhold lump-sum payments of life insurance benefits for survivors of fallen service members, according to records made public through a Freedom of Information request.
The amendment to Prudential’s contract is the first document to show how VA officials sanctioned a payment practice that has spurred investigations by lawmakers and regulators. Since 1999, Prudential has used so-called retained-asset accounts, which allow the company to withhold lump sum payments due to survivors and earn investment income on the money for itself.
The Sept. 1, 2009, amendment to Prudential’s contract with the VA ratified another unpublicized deal that had been struck between the insurer and the government 10 years earlier — one that was never put into writing, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its November issue. This verbal agreement in 1999 provoked concern among top insurance officials of the agency, the documents released in the FOIA request show.
For a decade, until the contract was formally changed, Prudential wasn’t fulfilling its obligations to survivors of fallen service members, says Brendan Bridgeland, an insurance lawyer who runs the non-profit Center for Insurance Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“It’s very clear they violated the original terms of the contract,” says Bridgeland, who is retained by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to represent consumers.
“Every veteran I’ve spoken with is appalled at the brazen war profiteering by Prudential,” says Paul Sullivan, who served in the 1991 Gulf War as an Army cavalry scout and is now executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington. “Now vets are upset at the VA’s inability to stop Prudential’s bad behavior.”
That the VA allowed Prudential to issue retained-asset accounts for 10 years while the contract required lump-sum payouts is “more evidence that the VA was asleep at the wheel for a decade,” says Sullivan, who was a project manager and analyst at the VA from 2000 to 2006.
“When grieving families check the box that they want a lump sum, they should get it. We remain disappointed and irate at the VA’s failure to provide advocacy for veterans,” he says.
Kevin J. Lawson & Bloomberg Reports