Association Offers Advice on Knowledge all Veterans Should Have

The Military Officers of America Association, a 370,000 member strong organization that was founded in Los Angeles in 1929, proudly proclaims itself the “nation’s largest and most influential association of military officers.”

Patriotic Soldier Sitting On Wheel Chair Against American Flag

Patriotic Soldier Sitting On Wheel Chair Against American Flag

A recent posting on the MOAA website  offers an enlightening list of five things every veteran should know.
They are:

  1. What is the type and character of your separation or retirement?

This is vitally important because it will determine your eligibility for all benefits through the VA, Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay, Combat Related Special Compensation and Veterans Preference in hiring with federal and state agencies.

  1. What is your VA disability rating and what conditions you are service connected for?

If you have already filed a claim for disability compensation with the VA you need to pay attention to your combined disability rating and the conditions you are service connected for.

  1. Did you enroll in Survivor Benefit Plan and if so, for whom?

You do not need to worry about this if you separated. If you signed up, you and your spouse should know what base amount you set and how to find out if you forget (on your Retiree Account Statement).

  1. Which federal agencies pay you monthly and how much they pay you?

If you are receiving several government checks each month you need to know where the money is coming from. If we have another government shutdown or partial shutdown, you will need to know what that will do to your monthly income.

  1. What type or types of healthcare you are eligible for?

The items above will dictate what types of healthcare you are eligible for. Knowing what you are eligible is the first step when deciding which healthcare options make the most sense for your family. If you do not have a VA disability rating and your annual income is over the VA threshold, VA healthcare may be off the table for you.

Female Veterans Face Their Own, Specific Challenges

All military veterans face challenges when it comes to returning to civilian life, but as the conservative media outlet Newsmax.com pointed out in a recent story, the growing number of female veterans must cope with some unique ones.

Soldier holding folded American flag

Soldier holding folded American flag

The article  by Tony Piccoli, in noting the rapid growth in the number of female veterans in the past 15 years, focuses on five of these:

  • Invisibility

“Many returning female vets have felt isolated, unacknowledged and invisible in a civilian society that either can’t fathom what they’ve been through, or discounts their military experience as somehow less challenging than that of male veterans,” Piccoli wrote. “Even as their numbers grow, these women have sometimes struggled to find and connect to one another and build mutually supportive veteran networks of the kind that are more established and taken for granted among male veterans.”

  • Falling through cracks

“Women say that sense of female invisibility can persist even in the institutions created to help the military population. Benefits and service programs operated by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs “tend to lag behind in serving women,” The Wall Street Journal reported, citing the 2014 DAV study and other sources.”

  • Self-isolation

“Women veterans will sometimes place themselves beyond the reach of help,” according to the story.
“We have found that women veterans underutilize VA care, largely because of a lack of knowledge about VA benefits and available services,” the agency’s chief consultant for women’s health services wrote in 2013.

  • Unemployment

The DAV report found unemployment among recently discharged female veterans running more than a point above jobless rate for male service members in 2013.

  • Homelessness

Female veterans were no more likely to suffer from PTSD than male veterans, according to a 2012 VA study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. Yet they were the fastest-growing segment of the veteran homeless population, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported in 2011.
 

Innovative Project Allows Veterans to Help Health Care into the Future

Portrait of a Mature Male Veteran Standing in Front of a Stars and Stripes Flag Wearing Election Badges

Portrait of a Mature Male Veteran Standing in Front of a Stars and Stripes Flag Wearing Election Badges

A remarkable research project is under way that will enable veterans, who have given so much to their country, to give even more.
Recently, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald brought to 441,196 the number of those volunteering for the Million Veteran Program.
According to the official blog of the department, in an announcement that McDonald had donated blood for the innovative research project, the Million Veteran Program “is a partnership between the VA and veterans with the goal of using genome mapping to help Veterans of today, and the future, transform their health care.”
“To me the Million Veteran Program is one of our premier research programs,” McDonald said. “It’s fundamental to the precision medicine initiative that the president has been leading.
“As a Veteran, you want to keep serving, and this is another opportunity to serve.”
“Veterans can volunteer to submit blood samples, which are entered into what is becoming one of the world’s largest medical database,” the announcement continued“Medical researchers can take the data and use it for studies on diseases like diabetes and cancer, and military-related illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The group targeted is a very special one, and not only for what they have done.
“Veterans are unique patients,” the blog stated. “Some have more than 40 years of medical records that followed them from their time in military service through their treatment at VA facilities. With the blood samples provided, researchers can use their extensive medical history to get a precise prognosis of where they’re heading.”
The samples are stored in a secure VA central research program database and are labeled with a code. Researchers who are approved access to analyze samples and data will not receive the name, address, date of birth or Social Security number of participating veterans.
“MVP will help researchers better understand the role genes play in our health,” states a frequently asked questions section on the VA’s website “For example, this research may tell us why some people are more responsive to certain medicines or why certain individuals are more likely to develop diseases like diabetes or heart disease. Your participation may not immediately benefit you. However, research findings may lead to new ways of preventing and treating illnesses in veterans and all Americans in the future.”
“The research that the secretary is now a part of will probably yield information to us for decades to come,” Dr. J. Michael Gaziano, one of the principal investigators in the program, was quoted as saying in the blog. “This is a quantum leap forward in understanding how genes affect disease. This isn’t just for the health of Veterans. What we learn will benefit mankind, as VA research has done over the decades. By agreeing to join the program, the Veterans who enroll are providing a generous gift to future generations; we can never thank them enough for their participation.”

Budget Shortfall Could Close VA Hospitals

Health care for veterans, already in a deplorable state, could be about to get much worse, according to a recent Associated Press story that ran in in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
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The Department of Veterans Affairs may have to shut down some hospitals this month if Congress fails to act to close to $2.5 billion budget shortfall, the story stated.
“The VA told Congress that it needs to cover shortfalls caused by an increased demand by veterans for health care, including costly treatments for hepatitis C,” the story continued. “The agency also is considering furloughs, hiring freezes and other steps to close a funding gap for the budget year that ends Sept. 30. The VA said it wants authority to use up to $3 billion from the new Veterans Choice program to close the budget gap, with as much as $500 million going to treat hepatitis C. A single pill for the liver-wasting viral infection can cost up to $1,000.”
The Choice program, part of an overhaul instituted in 2014, “makes it easier for veterans to receive federally paid medical care from local doctors,” the story by Matthew Daly stated.
“Congress approved $10 billion over three years for the Choice program as it responded to a scandal over long waits for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records to cover up the delays,” the article continued.
Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told Congress that health care sites experienced a 10.5 percent increase in workload for the one-year period since the scandal erupted in April 2014.
“The VA needs flexibility from Congress to close the budget gap, Gibson said, adding that action is needed in the next three weeks to avoid drastic consequences,” Daly wrote.
“This is far from the first time VA has disclosed problems far too late and turned its blatant mismanagement into a fiscal emergency,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, was quoted as saying.
 

Proposed New Pension Rules Labeled ‘Attack’ On Veterans, Families

A recent opinion piece in Forbes magazine pulled no punches in criticizing proposed new Veterans Administration rules dealing with who can receive monthly pension and widows’ benefits.670px-us-deptofveteransaffairs-seal-svg
“It’s an attempt to prevent people from gaming the system by giving away assets and then applying for aid,” according to the article. “But veterans and their families are crying foul. They say it will cause real harm by making an already cumbersome process more so and will mean more delays in granting benefits. That would put needy veterans at risk of losing one of the most critical benefits out there, one that can help veteran’s stay at home and not go to a nursing home.”
“The proposed VA rules are an attack on our nation’s veterans and their families; it’s a huge change from the status quo,” Bernard Krooks, an elder lawyer in New York and a Forbes contributor, was quoted as saying.
The action follows attempts to pass a look-back rule in Congress failed.
“There’s some question whether these changes can be made administratively, so if the regulations pass, they could be challenged in court,” the Forbes piece points out.
VA pension and benefits for widows provides financial assistance to needy veterans and surviving spouses who require daily assistant with such things as eating, dressing and bathing.
“Basically, there is no hard and fast net worth number to be eligible, at least for now. If you get down to $80,000 in assets, not including your house or car, and you have high deductible medical expenses that net out your income, you may qualify.
A single veteran’s maximum monthly benefit is $1,788, and a surviving spouse’s is $1,149. Both are tax-free, according to Krooks.

The Challenge of Successfully Applying for Veterans Benefits

The government’s helping hand can be a little slippery and hard to hold on to — especially for veterans.

For the last few months, NPR has featured an ongoing series called Back at Base, which chronicles the lives of American troops all around the world. A special part of that series, released just a few weeks ago, looks at the experience of veterans as they deal with healthcare concerns following their years of service.
Part 2 of that series is entitled “Without Help, Navigating Benefits Can Be Overwhelming for Veterans,” and it’s really helping a wider audience to understand just how difficult this well-meaning process really is.
They tell the story of Tom Nichols, a 29-year-old veteran of Indiana’s National Guard, who returned from Iraq a few years ago and has suffered from PTSD and addiction since.
Tom’s had trouble getting the help he needs. He tries applying for benefits, but the questions are tough and the application is long. Tom isn’t a doctor. He’s suffering. The idea that he can’t access the help he needs because the application itself is an obstruction seems acutely unfair, but for many, it is reality.
There is good news, though. The system is accessible to veterans like Tom. They might just need a little help.
“You never want to apply for benefits on your own,” a Veterans Services Officer tells NPR, “unless you have some experience with it.”
Too often, otherwise eligible veterans have their applications rejected because they tried to undertake the effort entirely alone. Others are eventually approved but only after significant delay.
This problem isn’t exclusive to veterans, actually. The elderly face similar application hurdles when trying to access government assistance for long-term care, as recently highlighted in News-Press.com, a spin-off of USA Today.
But in both these cases, professional help can make all the difference. In fact, NPR cites official data in reporting that veterans who seek assistance with their applications can receive double the benefits compared to those who don’t — and months or even years sooner.
Part of my practice is helping our nation’s heroes access the Veterans Benefits to which they are entitled under the law. The complex application process keeps too many people away from assistance that could make a radical difference in their lives.
If you have questions about your own eligibility for benefits, or if you need help with the applications, please don’t hesitate to give me a call. After all, you’ve served our country. Now, I welcome the opportunity to be of service to you.

Special Courts Deal With Special Problems Of Veterans

Veterans deserve special treatment for the sacrifices they have made in serving their country.

They also often have special problem as a result of their military experience, and that’s why there is a growing trend across the country to create special courts to deal with ex-servicemen and women.
“Most veterans are strengthened by their military service, but the combat experience has unfortunately left a growing number of veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury,” according to a website devoted to Veterans Treatment Courts.
The site estimates that one veteran out of every five has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment. One in six who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from a substance abuse issue.
“Research continues to draw a link between substance abuse and combat–related mental illness,” the article continues. “Left untreated, mental health disorders common among veterans can directly lead to involvement in the criminal justice system.
“The Veterans Treatment Court model requires regular court appearances … as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions and frequent and random testing for substance use. Veterans respond favorably to this structured environment given their past experiences in the armed forces. However, a few will struggle and it is exactly those veterans who need a Veterans Treatment Court program the most. Without this structure, these veterans will reoffend and remain in the criminal justice system.”
“Veterans Treatment Courts seek to treat veterans suffering from a substance abuse and/or mental health disorder, while helping ensure public safety,” notes a press release from the White House. “These special courts combine rigorous treatment and personal accountability, with the goal of breaking the cycle of drug use and criminal behavior.”

ABA Has Committee Focused On Legal Needs Of Veterans

Because the legal issues faced by veterans can be so complex and particular, the American Bar Association has a Coordinating Committee on Veterans Benefits and Services.
Many who serve on the panel were themselves in the military and approach the legal problems from their own experiences.
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“The challenge is huge, but the ABA has stepped up,” Paul Freese, co-chairman of the committee, is quoted as saying on the association’s website.
Freese was among those who participated earlier this year on the “Serving Those Who Served: A Roundtable Discussion on Meeting the Legal Needs of Veterans” at the 2014 ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago.
“Meeting speakers focused on success stories including two programs from Chicago that aid veterans in need,” according to the article.
One was the John Marshall Law School Veterans Legal Support Center and Clinic, which was established by three John Marshall Law School students. Since the program was started, it “has grown from a low-resource, small volunteer project to a well-funded clinic with 21 students this semester and a network of more than 100 pro bono attorneys.”
“Benefit claims are the most frequent issue handled by the clinic,” the account states. “Recently, the clinic and a pro bono volunteer attorney helped a veteran receive $177,122 in back pay.”
The Chicago Child Support Project, which seeks to help homeless veterans facing huge child support burdens, was also highlighted.
“Many homeless veterans are so far behind in child support, perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, that they cannot hope to pay the local authority or the other parent,” according to the piece. “In those cases, (Marian Scott-Steele, the homeless veterans liaison at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Division of Child Support Services) helps the veteran apply to have the authority agree not to pursue the debt and sometimes for the other parent to agree not to press for the child support.”

Veterans Generally Need Accredited Help Filing For Benefits

Veterans may receive assistance from anyone at all in making claims for benefits – but only once.
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After that, according to federal law, the person offering the help must be accredited as either an attorney, agent or representative of a service organization, as noted on the website longtermcarelink.net.
“Federal law dictates that no one may help a veteran in the preparation, presentation and prosecution of an initial claim for VA benefits unless that person is accredited,” according to the article.” The only exception to this law is that any one person can help any veteran, one-time only with a claim. To help any veteran a second time requires accreditation.
“In order to be accredited to help veterans with new claims, an individual desiring this certification from VA must submit a formal application, must meet certain character requirements and work history requirements and, except for attorneys, must pass a comprehensive test relating to veterans claims and benefits. There are also requirements for ongoing continuing education.”
This is not, the article points out, a prohibition on a veteran talking about his or her claim with a spouse, other relative or friends.
“The point at which discussion narrows down to specific information about the veteran’s service record, medical conditions, financial situation including income and assets and other issues relating to a claim specific to a veteran or dependent triggers accreditation,” according to the site.
The threshold for the VA, the story noted, comes once the veteran “has expressed an intent to file an application for veterans benefits.”
“It does not matter whether physical help with filing the claim is provided or not. The need for accreditation occurs at a much earlier stage than becoming physically involved in the claim. For a better understanding of how VA General Counsel interprets the need for accreditation please go to the VA Office of General Counsel Website — Frequently Asked Questions about Accreditation at http://www4.va.gov/ogc/accred_faqs.asp.

Medicare And Veterans Administration Benefits Don’t Work Together

Veterans trying to decide between using their VA benefits or Medicare can use both, but only to a limited extent, according to the website Medicareinteractive.org.
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“You can have both Medicare and Veterans Affairs benefits,” the site states. “However, Medicare and VA benefits do not work together. Medicare does not pay for any care that you receive at a VA facility. In order for Medicare to cover your care, you must receive care at a Medicare-certified facility that works with your Medicare coverage.
“In order for your VA coverage to cover your care, you must generally receive health care services at a VA facility.”
A lot of veterans, according to the site, use their service-related benefits for things like over-the-counter medications, annual physical exams and hearing aids.
“However, you may want to consider enrolling into Medicare Part B, medical insurance, even if you have VA coverage,” the story states. “Part B may cover services you receive from Medicare-certified providers and provide you with medical coverage outside the VA health system. In addition, if you do not enroll into Part B when you are first eligible to do so, you will most likely incur a Part B premium penalty for each 12-month period you were without Medicare Part B coverage.
“Some veterans only use their VA drug coverage to get their medications, since VA drug coverage may offer more generous prescription drug coverage than Medicare Part D, the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Since VA drug coverage is considered creditable, meaning it is as good as or better than the Medicare prescription drug benefit, you can delay enrolling into Medicare Part D without penalty. If you do lose VA drug coverage, make sure you enroll into a Part D plan within 63 days of losing your VA benefits.”