No. 77 March Term, 1978, No. 78 March Term, 1978, Appeals from the Decree of May 1, 1978, of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania, Civil Division, at No. 5281 In Equity (No. 77) and Orphans' Court Division at No. 63-78-146 (No. 78).
W. Bryan Pizzi, II, Rosenberg, Sewak & Pizzi, Milton D. Rosenberg, Washington, for appellant.
Charles Skomski, Monessen, for appellee.
Robert S. Englesberg, Asst. Atty. Gen., Pittsburgh, amicus curiae for Dept. of Public Welfare.
Daniel J. Parent, Dist. Counsel, Pittsburgh, amicus curiae for U.S. Veterans Administration.
O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ. Flaherty, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.
In Chojnacki Estate, 397 Pa. 596, 156 A.2d 812 (1959), cert. denied, 363 U.S. 826, 80 S.Ct. 1595, 4 L.Ed. 1522 (1960), this Court unanimously approved the use of veterans' benefits as authorized by the Veterans Administration for the care and maintenance of an incompetent veteran in a Commonwealth institution. In considering "'the unique nature of the fund and the statutory protections accorded such benefits during the lifetime of the veteran,'" this Court stated:
"'It is clear that pension benefits paid by the Veterans administration to a veteran for total non-service-connected disability are a governmental gratuity, and the grant of such allowance to the veteran creates no vested right. The gratuity ". . . may be redistributed or withdrawn at any time in the discretion of Congress:" Lynch v. U. S., 292 U.S. 571, 577 [54 S.Ct. 840, 78 L.Ed. 1434].'"
Id., 397 Pa. at 599, 156 A.2d at 814 (quoting orphans' court). Here the guardian of the estate of Vilma Grcich, with the Veterans Administration's approval and pursuant to court order, reimbursed the Commonwealth from veterans' benefits for institutional care and maintenance. In harmony with Chojnacki we conclude that the reimbursement was proper and that the guardian may not be surcharged.
From 1936 until her death in 1973, Vilma Grcich was hospitalized at the Torrance State Hospital, a facility operated by the Commonwealth. In 1955 Mrs. Grcich was formally adjudicated incompetent, and a corporate fiduciary was appointed as guardian of her estate.*fn1 Because one of her sons was a deceased veteran, she became the beneficiary of veterans' payments to provide for her care and support. From 1955 to 1970, the guardian did not pay the Commonwealth for Mrs. Grcich's care and support and instead allowed these veterans' funds to accumulate in her account. When in 1970 the Commonwealth requested reimbursement for ...