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Ohio Agency Faces Class Over Veterans’ Benefits

CINCINNATI (CN) - A federal judge certified a class action that challenges Ohio's practice of considering their Veterans Affairs allowances as nonexempt income.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services considers the income of Medicaid recipients to consider how much they should contribute toward their care.

Four women who are either widows of veterans or veterans themselves filed suit over their monthly $90 check from the VA.

Each woman resides in Medicaid-eligible assisted-living facility, and says her check should not be considered income under the Social Security Act.

"This statute clearly exempts the first $90 per month they each receive as VA benefits, and this $90 cannot be counted in the post-eligibility income determination used to pay Medicaid providers," according to the court's summary of the complaint.

The agency fought class certification on the basis that the proposed class of "all Ohio residents who have been participants in the State of Ohio's Home and Community based Medicaid Waiver Program since October 12, 2010" was too large. It also noted that the Social Security Act says veterans must "reside in a state veterans home" to be entitled to benefits.

U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Beckwith rejected the challenge and certified the class last week. "It is not appropriate for the court to determine at the class certification level whether the waiver of the first $90 of VA benefits is indeed limited only to those veterans or widows of veterans who reside in State veterans homes," she wrote.

Beckwith said the proposed class met all the necessary requirements and also rejected the agency's claims that the women should individually seek injunctive relief, "which would automatically benefit others."

"In this case, the age, ill health, and limited income of the putative plaintiffs all indicate a real danger that any individual case brought by any of them would become moot," Beckwith wrote. "A concern that a case may become moot can render denial of class certification inappropriate, even when the class is arguably unnecessary."

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