How The PACT Act Changes VA Benefits

PACT Act

The PACT Act, also known as The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, is one of the largest VA healthcare expansions and reforms in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

There are sweeping changes for those who have served since 9/11 but there are also provisions for those who have served in the Gulf War or Vietnam. What do you need to know about the PACT Act changes and who is affected? We’ll examine the basics below.

How PACT Changes VA Benefits

Veterans of the Vietnam conflict, both Gulf Wars, and those who have served since 9/11 now have expanded and extended eligibility for VA healthcare coverage and compensation for exposure to burn pits and other toxic events, conditions, etc.

The Department of Veterans Affairs official site reminds applicants that PACT Act expansions allow veterans to get free VA healthcare for any condition related to military service for 10 years from their last date of separation. The VA official site states, “We encourage you to apply, no matter your separation date.”

New Presumptive Conditions And Locations

There are more than 20 new “presumptive conditions” for burn pits and “other toxic exposures” according to the VA. There are updated and expanded guidelines for Agent Orange and radiation; there are new presumptive exposure locations for these contaminants.

The PACT Act requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in the VA healthcare system. It also enhances research, education, and treatment possibilities for toxic exposure.

The VA official site advises that all veterans and survivors may file claims with the VA now to apply for PACT Act benefits.

What Is A Presumptive Condition?

VA disability ratings are based on whether the medical condition being rated is service-connected. In some cases, the veteran must prove a service connection with medical records, statements from care providers, buddy letters from friends and family, etc.

But in other cases, a presumption of service-connected medical issues is made; the VA assumes that if you served in a specific area and circumstances meet certain VA conditions that certain medical issues are definitely service-connected.

A good example of a presumptive condition; those suffering from exposure to Agent Orange due to service during the Vietnam War. If you have the symptoms typically associated with the exposure and the duty location qualifies, the VA assumes your medical issues are duty-related. Further evidence is not required from the veteran.

VA Rules For Presumptive Conditions Related To Burn Pit Exposure

The Department of Veterans Affairs assumes you have toxic exposure if you served on or after August 2, 1990, in any of the following areas:

  • Bahrain
  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE)

This includes military duty requiring you to travel in the “airspace above” any of the locations above. You are also presumed to have toxic burn pit exposure if you served on or after September 11, 2001, in any of these areas:

  • Afghanistan
  • Djibouti
  • Egypt
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Uzbekistan
  • Yemen

You may also have a presumptive condition if your duty required travel in the “airspace above any of these locations” according to the VA.

What New Presumptive Conditions Apply?

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a list of new presumptive conditions that may apply to those who served in the eras and locations mentioned above. They include but may not be limited to the following cancers:

  •     Brain cancer
  •     Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
  •     Glioblastoma
  •     Head cancer of any type
  •     Kidney cancer
  •     Lymphatic cancer of any type
  •     Lymphoma of any type
  •     Melanoma
  •     Neck cancer
  •     Pancreatic cancer
  •     Reproductive cancer of any type
  •     Respiratory (breathing-related) cancer of any type

Cancer is not the only condition that qualifies. These illnesses are now also presumptive for those who meet the criteria listed above.

  •     Asthma that was diagnosed after service
  •     Chronic bronchitis
  •     Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  •     Chronic rhinitis
  •     Chronic sinusitis
  •     Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
  •     Emphysema
  •     Granulomatous disease
  •     Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  •     Pleuritis
  •     Pulmonary fibrosis
  •     Sarcoidosis

Qualifying For PACT Act Benefits

You may qualify for PACT Act benefits if you meet VA criteria including the following–at least one of these must apply:

  • You served in a theater of combat operations after the Persian Gulf War, or
  • You served in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities after November 11, 1998

You qualify if you meet one of the above AND you were discharged or released on or after October 1, 2013.

Those who were released before that date may still have options. You may still receive care and enroll “during a special enrollment period between October 1, 2022, and October 1, 2023” according to VA.gov.

One of the following must apply–you served in a theater of combat operations after the Persian Gulf War OR served in combat after November 11, 1998. Your discharge must have been between September 11, 2001, and October 1, 2013, and you have never enrolled in VA healthcare before.

PACT Act Benefits For Vietnam Veterans

PACT Act expansion for Vietnam veterans includes two new Agent Orange presumptive conditions:

  • High blood pressure/hypertension
  • Monoclonal gammopathy “of undetermined significance” (MGUS)

There are also five new presumptive locations for Vietnam-era toxic exposure:

  • Any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand from January 9, 1962, through June 30, 1976
  • Laos from December 1, 1965, through September 30, 1969
  • Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969, through April 30, 1969
  • Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters by Guam or American Samoa from January 9, 1962, through July 30, 1980
  • Johnston Atoll or on a ship that visited Johnston Atoll from January 1, 1972, through September 30, 1977

If you served on active duty in any of these locations, the VA official site says they will “automatically assume” you had exposure to Agent Orange.

Claiming VA Benefits

If you have never applied for VA disability benefits before, you will apply the way most others do–you will need to complete VA Form 21-526EZ and submit it according to the instructions on the form. Be as complete as you can and be prepared to submit supporting documentation in the form of any medical records, care provider notes, or other information that can support your claim.

Read More: What VA Forms Do I Need To Claim Disability?

If you have already applied for VA disability benefits but your claim was denied and the conditions you applied for are now presumptive, make a new claim with the Department Of Veterans Affairs using a VA Claim Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim, VA Form 20-0995.

 

Military Housing Allowances (BAH and OHA)

When you join the military, your military benefits include the VA home loan program which allows you to apply for a no-money-down home loan with a competitive interest rate and a guarantee to the lender from the federal government. But not everyone wants to purchase a home. Some choose to rent, others are required to rent because of the nature of their military assignment.

The Department of Defense offers servicemembers a housing allowance that is meant to offset the cost of renting a home or to offset the cost of a monthly mortgage payment. The military housing allowance is not intended to fully cover all costs of renting or owning a home but the offset is significant. What do you need to know about military housing allowances? We’ll explore the most important details below.

Two Types Of Housing Allowance

The two basic types of military housing allowance are:

  • Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)
  • Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA)

BAH is paid to those with military duty in the United States. OHA is paid to those who are assigned overseas and who do not live in government housing.

BAH and OHA are not taxable like basic pay is. But you are permitted to use BAH to qualify for a home loan, and you can use BAH to pay your monthly mortgage.

BAH rates are set each year based on current economic factors, housing market data, and other variables. Rates are subject to change, but in general, you should not see your housing allowance decrease from one year to the next. We’ll examine why that is below.

Overseas Housing Allowances (OHA) are paid to military members assigned overseas who won’t be living in on-base or government housing. The allowance is meant to offset the cost of living off base, but like BAH, it is not necessarily meant to cover the entire cost of rent and utilities. But it does cover a significant portion of them depending on location and other variables.

The DoD says OHA is paid to approximately 55,000 troops overseas to the tune of $2 billion per year.

Housing Allowance Rate Protection

The DoD reminds servicemembers that “Individual rate protection” will typically keep a servicemember from getting a lower stateside housing allowance than the previous year assuming certain conditions are not present. What conditions?

The DoD requires the service member to maintain eligibility for BAH. Rate protection is meant to ensure that those in the military “who have made long-term commitments in the form of a lease or contract are not

Penalized” in cases where housing costs in a given market actually go down.

Rate protection for service members may be assumed UNLESS one of the following applies:

  • Permanent Change of Station (PCS)
  • Reduction in pay grade
  • Change in dependency status

Who Is Eligible For A Military Housing Allowance

Uniformed service members who are not assigned quarters on base may be approved to draw BAH or OHA. Some who live on base in stateside public/private partnerships may pay rent to a property management company while living on base.

This is because the properties are owned and/or maintained by that private agency. In other cases, you may rent or purchase property off-post and use your housing allowance for that use instead. Overseas, you will draw OHA when living off-base in the local economy.

How Military Housing Allowances Are Calculated

Your BAH is calculated based on your duty location (the local zip code for stateside bases or the specific location in the host nation where you serve), your rank, whether you are married or not, and the calendar year you are approved for the allowance in. OHA is calculated using a more complex formula that includes cost and currency data, location and size of the country, and your status as a single or married service member.

OHA rates are compiled by country and are updated based on new cost data and currency fluctuations.  Where To Find Your BAH Rates For The Current Year

  • Calculate your stateside BAH rate using the BAH Calculator at the DoD Travel Management Office official site.
  • Calculate your Overseas Housing Allowance rate using the OHA Calculator at the DoD Travel Management Office.

Applying For A Military Housing Allowance

When assigned overseas, you will apply with your base housing office and be sure to fill out  DD Form 2367, Individual Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) Report. Most bases have a rule that you should check in with the housing office prior to committing to any lease or other legally binding agreement–you will want to know what the locals know about renting off post.

When you are assigned stateside, report to the base housing office as soon as you can to learn what local requirements may apply for you to begin drawing BAH. In many cases, you may be given information in your welcome briefing or in-processing appointments, but it’s best to check in with the housing office as early as possible. Procedures for getting BAH may vary from base to base, and may not be standardized across all branches of service.

What To Know About BAH and OHA

Your military housing allowance for stateside and overseas duty is calculated on rental data, NOT homeownership data. This housing allowance does not take into account any costs associated with owning a home and the amount of your BAH or OHA should not inform your decisions where purchasing a home is concerned.

The BAH you get is not meant to be a realistic yardstick for the costs of home ownership–if you try to decide how much mortgage you can afford each month, BAH doesn’t serve as an indicator of how much loan you may be approved for. It may be best to think of BAH as supplemental income that can help offset a major portion of your home expenses but NOT all of them. You may find that your out-of-pocket costs may run between 5% and 20% of the full mortgage or rental per month.

BAH and OHA may increase as your rank increases, which is helpful if you need to consider buying or renting a larger home sometime in the future.

 

Military Benefits Offered During Basic Training

What military benefits are offered during basic training? If you are a new recruit and you’re wondering what to expect when you arrive in the training environment, keep reading. There are many benefits to be aware of. What follows are the benefits most commonly asked about–not all of those listed are accessible during initial training, but some definitely are available when in boot camp.

Military Pay And Allowances

Even though you are in a training environment, you still need to be paid for your time, which is why trainees are offered the base pay amount for the rank they enter the service with. This is typically the lowest rank (E-1 for enlisted members and O-1 for officers) but some enter the military with a higher rank because of past college credit or other factors. Some may attend basic training as an E-2 and therefore are offered higher base pay.

You begin earning the moment you start training, but depending on when your training phase begins your first paycheck may be delayed a week or two since the DoD pays military salaries twice a month on the 1st and 15th.

If you join the military as a parent or spouse, you may also be entitled to draw a family separation allowance if you are away for 30 days or longer. This is above and beyond base pay. What you won’t receive during basic training?

Proficiency pay, foreign language pay (even if you speak another language fluently), hazardous duty pay, or other options are offered to those who have made it to their first duty station and are settling into their jobs. These special pays require you to meet certain requirements to draw them.

When you arrive at Basic Training, you may be given a clothing allowance that pays for your initial supply of uniforms, boots, cold weather gear, and dress uniforms. This typically happens during the first week and some branches of service may provide another clothing allowance–or require you to use a portion of the original allowance–at a certain point toward the end of training.

Medical Care During Initial Training

Officer candidates and enlisted recruits alike attend their initial training in a closed environment. That means you do not have the freedom to come and go, on and off base, as though you were working a traditional job. That freedom comes after the initial and any advanced training are completed and you are given your first military duty station assignment.

While you are in the training environment, if you get sick or injured you are typically treated at the on-base or on-post military medical facility there unless that installation has an agreement with a local provider instead.

That may be fairly unusual for some installations but when a military base experiences renovations, construction projects, or other improvements some facilities might not be available and require the use of an alternative care provider. But how do you pay for this coverage? Do you pay for healthcare coverage while in basic training?

TRICARE During Basic Training

All recruits receive medical insurance coverage through TRICARE while in training. You cannot use any other insurance, and coverage/enrollment are automatic. Members of the Guard and Reserve are also covered during training periods.

What you need to know regardless of your Guard, Reserve, or Active Duty status is that while coverage is automatic, you are required to enroll in TRICARE at some point.

GI Bill Eligibility During Basic Training

Many newcomers to the uniformed services want to know how quickly they can access their GI Bill benefits.

Some want to attend college at some point after they have arrived at their first duty station, others are keen to get the clock ticking on their time-in-service requirements so they can transfer their GI Bill benefits to a spouse or dependent. But you are not eligible for the GI Bill while in initial training. Your minimum time-in-service requirements generally begin counting down toward eligibility once you have reached your first military duty station.

VA Loan Eligibility During Basic Training

Your ability to obtain a VA Certificate of Eligibility for a VA home loan requires you to have served a minimum time in uniform AFTER you have left the training environment for your first duty station.

Some new recruits with families want to get the VA loan process started as quickly as possible, but until you know where your first duty station is, buying a home is likely a bad idea anyway. It’s not safe to assume you won’t have an overseas base as your first assignment and using your VA loan benefits is only possible once you’ve put in the time-in-service at that first assignment.

Military Leave

All military members earn 2.5 days of leave or vacation each month. You cannot use leave during basic training no matter how long it takes you to get through it, but some branches of service authorize a certain amount of leave following basic training and/or initial training.

You can apply to take leave between your basic and advanced training, but depending on the branch of service you may be limited. It’s more likely you will be approved for leave between your initial/advanced training and the time you depart for your first military assignment.

Space-A Travel

In the same way you cannot use leave during your initial training, Space-A travel is not a realistic option for those who have not graduated and are working at their first duty station.

Space-A travel is an option where military members can sign up for free flights on military aircraft assuming there are seats available on the mission. Space-A travel makes it incredibly cheap to fly, but there are no guarantees you will get a seat and mission needs always come first.

Even if you are on leave between basic training and your advanced training, Space-A is not a good option. Newcomers to the system frequently struggle with it at first, and if you are on a short schedule where your military leave is concerned, it’s not safe to bet on.

All military members being assigned to their first duty station will have their transportation to that station paid for, but when you travel on leave at your leisure, you must pay those expenses.

The Bottom Line

Many of the benefits you can look forward to in your military career are offered only after you have graduated and made it through your technical training where applicable. There may be exceptions, but for those interested in the GI Bill, VA home loans, spouse tuition assistance, and other options must look to the future–using these benefits while you are still waiting for your first duty station assignment isn’t possible.

 

VA Native American Direct Loans

The VA home loan benefit typically allows military members with a minimum amount of qualifying service to apply for a zero-down mortgage with limits on certain closing costs, no penalty for early payoff, and the ability to refinance with a VA Streamline loan later on.

A typical VA home loan experience requires the borrower to apply for a VA Certificate of Eligibility, find a participating VA lender, and apply for the loan. VA applicants are required to credit-qualify for a mortgage the same as any other home loan program through VA loan applications are approved with more forgiving credit qualifications than some conventional loans.

For the most part, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not provide the loan funds for the VA loan program. That is usually true UNLESS the applicant is trying to get a special type of VA mortgage known as a Native American Direct Loan.

This benefit is offered to those with qualifying military service who are also eligible to buy real estate on tribal lands in America. Native American service members with rights to live on Native American trust land, also known as federal trust land, as the VA defines it, may apply for a VA Direct Loan where the Department of Veterans Affairs is the lender and underwriter.

How VA Native American Direct Loans (NADL) Work

The VA offers NADL to veterans who are Native American, and to non-native veterans who have a Native American spouse. These loans can be used to buy, build, or improve a property located on federal trust lands.

NADLs can be used to refinance an existing VA Native American Direct Loan and lower the interest rate on that loan according to the VA official site. These loans are only offered on tribal lands that have a current Memorandum of Understanding with the federal government.

Advantages Of An NADL

Native American Direct Loans offered by the VA have advantages similar to typical VA mortgages. There is typically no down payment required, there are limits on closing costs for these loans and there is no mortgage insurance requirement.

VA NADLs are 30-year, fixed-interest rate mortgages. These loans are reusable, like typical VA home loans. You can buy, build, or renovate another home with a VA mortgage down the line as long as you meet the program requirements. VA loans typically have no loan limit for those who have 100% of their VA loan entitlement to use.

Applying For A VA Native American Direct Loan

To begin the application process for a VA NADL, you must apply for a VA Certificate of Eligibility, and contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin the NADL application process. You will want to contact your nearest VA Regional Loan Center, which you can locate using the VA official site.

These VA loans, like most VA mortgages, require payment of the VA loan funding fee unless the applicant is exempt because they receive or are eligible to receive VA compensation for service-connected medical issues.

If you are exempt from paying the fee for this reason you will need to have that information reflected in your records and on your VA Certificate of Eligibility. If you are awaiting a VA decision on a medical claim, you may be required to pay the fee upfront and apply for a refund later once your records show the VA rating.

Who Is Eligible For A VA NADL?

Native American veterans and non-Native American veterans married to Native American spouses may qualify for a VA NADL. All of the following must apply:

  • The tribal government has a Memorandum of Understanding with the VA that outlines how the NADL program operates, and;
  • You have a VA Certificate of Eligibility (COE), and;
  • You qualify with your credit scores and other financials, and;
  • You have income and employment that allows you to realistically afford the mortgage and;
  • The home you purchase with a Native American Direct Loan is meant to be your primary residence or home address.

What To Do If Your Tribal Government Wants To Participate

If you want to buy a home on federal trust lands where the tribal government does not have a Memorandum of Understanding with the government for the NADL program, contact the Regional Loan Center of jurisdiction in your area.

What do these MOUs contain? Essentially they are agreements with the federal government outlining the terms and conditions under which the NADL program may operate on that federal trust land.

Here’s an excerpt from a VA template for the NADL MOUs. This is a portion of the agreement acknowledging that the tribe, “…has established standards and procedures that apply to the conveyance of a leasehold interest in real property” that would be used in NADL transaction by an American Indian borrower, “…including procedures for foreclosing the interest, eviction and procedures for resale of the lot or the dwelling (or both) purchased, constructed, rehabilitated or refinanced using the proceeds of the loan.” As you can see, MOUs contain technical details critical for the NADL program to operate properly.

What To Know About VA Native American Direct Loans

VA mortgages, including VA Native American Direct Loans, involve an application, credit check, and employment verification. You will be required to provide extensive personal information about your employment, income, and the future of both. The same as for typical VA mortgages, the borrower must be able to qualify for a loan with credit scores and repayment history among other variables.

Prepare for an NADL the same as you would for any other application for a large line of credit. You’ll want to lower your debt ratio, cut your credit card balances down to well below half the credit limit, and establish a record of on-time payments on all financial obligations. You should check your credit reports early and often, giving yourself plenty of time to address errors, identity theft, old information that should have dropped off your report ages ago, etc.

A Native American Direct Loan works much in the same way as other VA mortgages, but tribal agreements with the VA may feature nuances–you’ll want to ask specifically about how the NADL program differs from traditional VA mortgages. The VA does not, for example, advertise the availability of NADL cash-out refinancing on its official site. If you have a need to explore cash-out refinance options and own a home on federal trust land, you may need to contact a VA representative to learn what your options might be at application time.

Home loan rules and regulations are always subject to change. New legislation, changes in VA policy, changes in funding, and other variables may determine the future of some aspects of VA home loan programs including the NADL.

Being Eligible For A VA Loan: What It Does NOT Mean

Eligibility for the VA loan program does not mean automatic loan approval. All applicants must credit qualify for the loan and meet VA employment standards. You may find that two years of employment overall is a good rule of thumb for minimum time in the job market, though those two years do NOT have to be with the same employer.

When considering a zero-down VA mortgage of any kind, those who must pay the VA loan funding fee should know that making a down payment can reduce the cost of that fee. The VA lowers the funding fee for down payments up to 5% of the purchase price of the home, and also for down payments up to 10% of the loan amount.

Lowering your VA Loan Funding Fee means saving more on the upfront costs of the mortgage, assuming you choose not to finance it but to pay in cash. Financing the VA loan funding fee may increase the amount of your monthly mortgage payment, be sure to ask your loan officer how much and decide whether or not you can afford the increase.

The VA Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers benefits and services for those who are caregivers serving disabled veterans. There are options for those caring for vets with service-connected medical issues as well as for non-service-connected disabilities. One major VA option for caregivers is the VA Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.

This program can help a veteran choose primary and secondary care providers, provide travel and lodging compensation when care is needed, and a monthly stipend for the primary caregiver. There are also options for education and training, and certain health coverage options may also apply.

The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers

This VA program offers support and services for family caregivers of qualifying veterans injured in the line of duty. This benefit was previously offered only to those caring for veterans who served during certain military service eras.

But as of October 1, 2022, thanks to legislation known as the VA MISSION Act, the VA has expanded program eligibility to include “family caregivers of eligible Veterans from all eras who were seriously injured in the line of duty.”

VA Healthcare Enrollment Required

If the veteran and caregiver need this assistance, the veteran must be enrolled in VA health care or must still be on active duty awaiting a medical discharge. To apply for VA healthcare benefits it’s necessary to complete VA Form 10-10EZ. Applying for VA healthcare means submitting some personal data including:

  • Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and any dependents
  • Your military discharge papers
  • Insurance card information for all insurance coverage including Medicare, private insurance, or insurance from your employer.
  • Gross household income from the previous calendar year for you, your spouse, and your dependents.
  • Your deductible expenses for the past year and may include approved health care and education costs.

Who Is Eligible

This VA program is offered to those who are at least 18 years old and who are:

  • A spouse, son, daughter, parent, stepfamily member, or extended family member of the Veteran, of;
  • Someone who lives full-time with the Veteran, or;
  • Someone who is willing to live full-time with the veteran if designated as a family caregiver.

The veteran receiving care must meet all of the guidelines below:

  • The patient must have a VA disability rating (individual or combined) of 70% or higher.
  • The veteran must have been discharged from the U.S. military or;
  • The veteran must have a date of medical discharge and must need at least 6 months of continuous, in-person personal care services.

The veteran can choose a single “primary” care provider and two “secondary” care providers who serve as backup for the “primary family caregiver” according to the VA.

Caregiver Benefits

The VA official site lists the following benefits offered at press time for primary and secondary family caregivers:

  • Caregiver education and training
  • Mental health counseling
  • Travel assistance
  • Lodging
  • Other financial assistance when traveling with the Veteran to receive care

Primary family caregivers may also receive:

  • A monthly payment.
  • Access to health care benefits through CHAMPVA, the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs for those who do not “already qualify for care or services under another health care plan”.
  • 30 days per year of respite care.

Applying For Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers

The application process for this VA benefit is unique since the caregiver and the veteran must apply together to claim these benefits. Any time the veteran wants to add a new family caregiver, a new application is required.

What You Need To Apply

This is a joint application, the veteran and each family caregiver applicant will need to provide specific information to the VA for approval purposes. This information includes but may not be limited to:

  • The address, telephone number, and date of birth of the veteran.
  • Address, phone, and birth date for each family caregiver applicant.
  • The VA medical center where the veteran will receive care.
  • Health insurance information for the primary family caregiver.
  • Veteran’s Social Security number or tax identification number.

If you are filling out an application on behalf of the veteran, the VA requires you to be “a legal representative who can make medical decisions for the veteran” and proof of your legal authority is required. This can be in the form of a power of attorney, a medical proxy, or medical power of attorney. This documentation is required and is non-negotiable.

You can have one primary and two secondary caregivers at one time. The VA must determine your eligibility as well as the patient’s, and you must both apply online via VA.gov or using one of the other options available:

By mail: Submit a jointly filled out Application for the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (VA Form 10-10CG). Mail the form and any supporting documents to:

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
Health Eligibility Center
2957 Clairmont Road NE, Suite 200
Atlanta, GA 30329-1647

In-person: Bring a completed VA Form 10-10CG to your nearest VA medical center. Direct this application to the VA Caregiver Support Coordinator at that center. Find the name of your local coordinator at the VA Caregiver Support Coordinator directory, or call the VA directly.

One other way this application process is unique? The VA requests you do NOT send medical records along with your application. The VA will follow up and request the relevant documentation needed.

What Happens After You Apply

Once you have completed and submitted your form, you can expect a VA representative from the Caregiver Support Program to get in touch. This contact should come from someone working at the nearest VA medical center, ideally the place where the veteran plans to get care.

The representative will discuss your eligibility and your options. You may also have a conversation about what to do if you are not eligible for this program. Some don’t realize they have the right to appeal a decision in this area–your caregiver support coordinator can help you learn more about appeal options and other next steps where applicable.

If you are not eligible for this program, be sure to ask whether you are eligible for the Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS). To find out more, call the VA Caregiver Support Line or visit www.caregiver.va.gov. You can also discuss your options with your local Caregiver Support Coordinator.

What Happens If The Veteran Does Not Qualify?

If you are the caregiver of a veteran who is determined to be ineligible for this program may still have access to VA support. There is a second option called the Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS). Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs directly to learn more about this program and how it may help.

If you have not explored your options under this program in a while, it is a smart idea to re-research them as legislation and changes to VA guidelines often change the amount of assistance, the type of help offered, and the associated benefits with the program.

If more than a year has gone by since you last reviewed your options, take a look at them again. You may be surprised at what is open to you since you researched these benefits last time. There may be additional programs or services offered, additional options for training or respite care, and options for enhanced services under upgraded programs.

VA Dependency & Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

Dependency & Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a VA benefit offered to surviving spouses, children, and parents of a service member or veteran who died in the line of duty. DIC benefits are also offered to the qualifying survivor of a veteran who died from a service-related injury or illness. DIC offers a monthly payment, which varies depending on whether you are a surviving spouse, child, or parent. This is a tax-free benefit.

How much you may qualify for is a bit complicated. The VA official site breaks the payment rates down based on when the service member died, whether you’re a spouse, child, or parent, and what rank the veteran or service member was when they died. It’s best to contact the VA directly for payment rate information on DIC due to its complexity.

Who Qualifies For DIC: Spouses

The qualifications for a surviving spouse to receive VA DIC benefits include living with the veteran without a break until they died. For those who may be legally separated, the VA official site says you qualify for DIC as long as, “you weren’t at fault for the separation”. You may need to contact the VA for further clarification on this issue. One of the following must also apply:

  • You married the service member within 15 years of discharge, or;
  • You were married to the service member for at least 1 year, or;
  • You had a child with the service member.

In general, you can’t claim DIC if you remarry, though there are exceptions to this rule which include, but may not be limited to:

  • You remarried on or after December 16, 2003, and you were 57 years of age or older at the time, or;
  • You remarried on or after January 5, 2021, and you were 55 years of age or older at the time you remarried.

When applying for DIC, you will need to provide documentation showing your relationship to the service member, applicable marriage license, and DEERS information where applicable. You will need the service member’s death certificate and evidence of at least one of the following:

  • The service member died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, or
  • The service member died from a service-connected illness or injury, or
  •  The service member died from a service-connected illness or injury but was eligible to receive VA compensation for a service-connected disability rated as totally disabling.

Additional requirements may apply.

Who Qualifies For DIC: Dependent Children

The surviving child or children of a veteran or service member who dies in the line of duty may qualify for DIC benefits if they are not married, aren’t included in “the surviving spouse’s compensation”, and are under the age of 18. The age limit is higher for children who are still in school; they must be under the age of 23 in such cases.

To apply for DIC as a dependent, you must provide supporting documentation with your claim. That documentation must show that the service member died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training. There are other criteria that may apply instead.

The service member or veteran died from a service-connected illness or injury, or did not die from a service-connected illness or injury, but was eligible to receive VA compensation for a service-connected disability.

That disability must have been totally disabling for at least 10 years before their death. The disability may also have occurred since being released from active duty and for at least 5 years immediately before their death, or for at least 1 year before death if they were a former prisoner of war who died after September 30, 1999.

Who Qualifies For DIC: Parents

For surviving parents, the following must be true to claim DIC benefits:

  • The parent(s) must be the biological, adoptive, or foster parent of the Veteran or service member;
  • Parent income is below a certain amount set by the Department of Veterans Affairs

Supporting documentation requirements include military service records, doctor’s reports, and medical tests. You must also submit documentation showing at least one of the following applies:

  • The service member died from an injury or illness while on active duty or in the line of duty while on active duty for training, or;
  • The service member died from an injury or certain illnesses in the line of duty while on inactive training, or;
  • The Veteran died from a service-connected illness or injury.

How To Apply For DIC Benefits

There are different forms for different applicants. Surviving spouses and children must fill out VA Form 21P-534a, Application for DIC, Death Pension, and/or Accrued Benefits by a Surviving Spouse or Child. You can get assistance completing this form from the Military Casualty Officer assigned to you upon the death of the service member.

If the servicemember retired or separated from the military, you will need to complete an Application for DIC, Death Pension, and/or Accrued Benefits (VA Form 21P-534EZ). Surviving parents must complete an Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation by Parent(s) (VA Form 21P-535).

Help is available from veteran service organizations like the VFW, USO, AMVETS, etc. You can use a veteran service organization to help you complete and submit the form or you can fill the form out yourself and submit to the VA online via the AccessVA portal or by mail to:

Department of Veterans Affairs
Pension Intake Center
PO Box 5365

Janesville, WI 53547-5365

What To Know About DIC

The VA official site states that in cases where an applicant is eligible for both the VA Survivor’s Pension and DIC, the VA pays whichever benefit offers the most money. The VA does not permit “double dipping” or receiving two types of compensation in this area for the same issue where these two specific benefits are concerned.

Some applicants may be eligible for DIC and the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) instead of their Survivor’s Pension; in such cases, the VA official site reminds that until 2023, you are not permitted to draw DIC and SBP in full at the same time.

There is a phase-out of this policy underway, but until that phase-out is complete in 2023, the federal government reduces your  SBP payment by a third. This is called an SBP offset, but it is no longer deducted as of 1 January 2023.

Survivor benefits like these are never automatic. They must be applied for, and in some cases, there are program changes that may be implemented over time which change the requirements for the program. If you have not looked into your VA benefits options in a while, it may be a good idea to contact the VA directly to learn what the latest updates, upgrades, and requirements for these programs might be.

There have been multiple bills signed into law in the last few years that radically affect some VA benefits. The information you got in your last round of research may be outdated or become outdated soon. Don’t forget that you have resources like your nearest VA Regional Office or a veteran service organization at your disposal; they can help you apply for the right benefits,fill out the proper forms, and ensure you make more informed choices.

 

The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-AD)

The Montgomery GI Bill is an education benefit offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those who serve a minimum amount of time on Active Duty qualified for this benefit provided they opted in during basic training or in their initial enlistment.

The Montgomery GI Bill program is closed to new recruits (see below); you cannot opt in to this version of the GI Bill any longer. That said, some may still qualify to use the benefits they signed up for when the program was active.

You are required to make a choice between GI Bills if you are eligible for the Montgomery version. You are required to select the Post 9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery version. Once you choose, the selection is irreversible.

Things To Know About Choosing A GI Bill Option

VA regulations say you are permitted to use one VA education benefit for a qualifying period of military service. The VA official site reminds those who choose the Post-9/11 GI Bill that they may be entitled to a refund of any money they paid into the Montgomery GI Bill program (MGIB). This is true if:

  • You entered active duty after June 30, 1985, or;
  • You served a combination of two years of active-duty service and four years of Selected Reserve service after June 30, 1985
  • You chose to pay $1,200 for the Montgomery GI Bill program
  • You chose to use your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits instead of your MGIB benefits and had unused MGIB benefits when you started using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits instead

Other criteria may also apply. You may be eligible for up to 48 months of GI Bill benefit under this program if you meet the criteria. There is no housing stipend for the Montgomery GI Bill, which is an important consideration to make if you need help with your living expenses while attending school.

New Troops Don’t Qualify For The Montgomery GI Bill

New recruits today, as mentioned above, do not have the option of selecting the Montgomery GI Bill. Instead, these recruits enroll in the Post 9/11 GI Bill which features enhancements due to the passage of a law commonly referred to as the Forever GI Bill.

Who Qualified For The Montgomery GI Bill?

There are multiple categories that qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill.

Category I

  • The applicant has a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and
  • Entered active duty after June 30, 1985, and
  • The applicant chose to contribute $100 a month for the first 12 months of service toward the Montgomery GI Bill program.
  • Applicant must have served continuously for 24-36 months depending on the agreement or;
  • Served four years if you entered the Selected Reserve within a year of leaving active duty

Category II

  • The applicant has a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and
  • Started active duty before January 1, 1977 (or before January 2, 1978, under a delayed enlistment program contracted before January 1, 1977), and
  • The applicant served between October 19, 1984, and June 30, 1985, and stayed on active duty through June 30, 1988 (or through June 30, 1987, if you entered the Selected Reserve within 1 year of leaving active duty and served 4 years), and
  • The applicant had one day or more of GI Bill entitlement left under the Vietnam Era GI Bill (Chapter 34) as of December 31, 1989

Category III

  • High school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and
  • The applicant does not qualify for MGIB under categories I or II, and
  • Contributed to the Montgomery GI Bill ($1,200) before retirement or separation
  • The applicant must have served on active duty on September 30, 1990, and involuntarily separated after February 2, 1991, or
  • Involuntarily separated on or after November 30, 1993, or
  • Voluntarily separated under the Voluntary Separation Incentive program or;
  • Voluntarily separated under the Special Separation Benefit program

Category IV

  • High school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and
  • The applicant made a $1,200 contribution toward the GI Bill
  • Applicant served on active duty on October 9, 1996, had money left in a VEAP account on that date and chose MGIB before October 9, 1997, or
  • Started full-time National Guard duty under title 32, USC, between July 1, 1985, and November 28, 1989, and chose MGIB between October 9, 1996, and July 9, 1997

How Much Money Is Available Under The Montgomery GI Bill?

The amount of GI Bill benefits you get under this program depends on the duration of your military service, the type of higher learning you want to get, and whether you qualify for other VA benefits such as a college fund kicker. In order to see if you can use the Montgomery GI Bill at a particular school you will need to see if the VA has approved your program.

The Department of Veterans Affairs advises all applicants to use the GI Bill Comparison Tool at the VA official site to see whether your school’s program is approved. Those who want to apply at a school that has not yet been approved are urged to contact the school to ask if they will request VA approval, but the VA cannot act until the school has made the request.

Applying For The GI Bill

You can apply for Montgomery GI Bill benefits by applying online with the Department of Veterans Affairs using VA Form 22-1990. You can also send that completed form to the VA by mail–fill out the form and send it to the nearest VA Regional Office to your school. You can find a list of regional claims processing offices at the VA official site. You can skip mailing the form if you want to deliver it in-person to a VA Regional Office.

You can also ask for help from your school’s VA certifying official who may work in the financial aid or admissions office. You can also get assistance claiming VA education benefits by getting the help of a trained Veteran Service Officer.

What To Know About The Montgomery GI Bill

Some who selected the Montgomery GI Bill also chose to participate in a buy-up program where the service member contributed an additional $600 toward the program to qualify for more GI Bill money when the time comes. That $600 earned those who opted in an additional $5600 in additional GI Bill benefits. The $600 buy-up option is not offered with the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

The Montgomery GI Bill does not feature an option to transfer the benefit to a dependent spouse or school-age child. The Post 9/11 GI Bill features many more options than the Montgomery version including a monthly housing stipend and the ability to transfer the benefit in exchange for a longer military service commitment.

There is also a Montgomery GI Bill for members of the Guard and Reserve, the rules and requirements for this program are different in crucial ways; if you had served on active duty but switched to the Guard or Reserve, it’s not safe to assume your benefits are the same under the Montgomery Bill-Selected Reserve version.

And finally, the Montgomery GI Bill offers financial assistance for a variety of different class types, and some overlook those listed below assuming they would not qualify. But you are permitted to use your GI Bill options to consider:

  • Remedial courses
  • Deficiency courses
  • Refresher courses

As long as you are degree-seeking, such courses could be approved for GI Bill payments.

Military Aid Societies And Education Benefits

If you need more money to fund your education or that of a dependent or spouse, military aid societies are a resource you should consider. Some only learn about military aid societies when they face financial hardship and need help above and beyond their military pay and allowances. These societies provide such emergency help but they can also be a source of education funds for qualifying applicants.

You may find an office for the aid society on your base or at a nearby base if you live in a larger military community. You can also contact these agencies via their official sites.

Here’s what you need to know about military aid societies and how they can help you when it’s time to pay for education. The first thing you should know? It’s good to contact the military aid society you want to apply with directly before filling out any forms.

What Are Military Aid Societies?

Military aid societies exist to help service members and their families. Also known as military relief societies, you will find the following agencies ready to help in qualifying circumstances:

  • Air Force Aid Society
  • Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
  • Army Emergency Relief
  • Coast Guard Mutual Assistance

Each society has its own mission statement, its own requirements for assistance, and rules for paying back that assistance where applicable. Not all help has to be repaid, much depends on the individual program.

How To Request Help

The application process for education assistance from a military aid or military relief society will vary depending on the program. For example, the Army Emergency Relief (AER) application process includes this admonition to work with the chain of command:

“Your chain of command has the power to approve immediate financial assistance up to $2,000. Your chain of command can also refer you to the on-post AER officer. Your chain of command is empowered to help. Just ask!”

The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) asks new applicants to set up an appointment. “When you need help, call to make an appointment at your nearest NMCRS office right away. Often you can be seen the same day. “

As you can see, depending on your branch of service you may need to approach your application differently. And naturally, the Army’s advice is directed toward those who need immediate financial relief. But those who need educational resources do well to take the “talk to your chain of command” advice to learn what new options may be open to you to fund your education, and/or that of your school-age dependents or spouse.

For any relief society, contacting the agency directly before you apply may be helpful.

The Air Force Aid Society

Air Force Aid Society programs include emergency financial assistance to Air Force and Space Force families. This help comes in the form of zero-interest loans and grants. The Air Force Aid Society also offers educational assistance to qualifying military spouses and school-age dependent children including:

AFAS education grants, loans, and scholarships are available to dependent children or spouses of Airmen and Guardians, both active duty and retired.

  • General H. Arnold Education Grant
  • AFAS Merit Scholarship
  • AFAS Supplement Education Loan Program

The Hap Arnold Education Grant is the “flagship” Air Force Aid Society education program. These are available during an open application season announced each year and approved based on need. Grant funds between $500 and $4,000 are awarded annually until the funds are gone for that year.

The Air Force Aid Society Supplemental Education Loan Program offers no-interest Supplemental Education Loans for qualifying school-age Air Force dependents up to $1,000. These loans are intended to offset costs such as books, boarding costs, tuition, etc.

Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS)

The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Education Program offers educational assistance in the form of interest-free loans and grants. These are offered to the spouses and children of qualifying sailors and Marines, as well as those serving on active duty (both sailors and Marines) who are enrolled in qualifying military continuing education programs.

These grants and loans range from $500 to $3,000 per academic year, and the funds are paid directly to the school. This money can only be used for books, fees, tuition, and lodging; interest-free loans are offered with a 24-month repayment plan via military allotment.

Army Emergency Relief (AER)

The options offered through Army Emergency Relief include AER scholarships offered to qualify spouses and dependents of:

  • Active duty
  • Deceased active
  • Retired
  • Deceased retired
  • Medically retired
  • So-called “gray area retirees”
  • Active Guard Reserve and United States Army Reserve on Title 10 Orders(must be for the entire academic year)

All applicants are required to be registered as dependents in DEERS. These scholarships are offered on an annual basis and the amount of the funds awarded depends on how many applicants are approved.

The Shinseki Spouse scholarship program offers financial academic assistance for up to four years of full-time study or eight years of part-time study. This award must be reapplied for each year and there is a year-round application option.

The Ursano Scholarship Program was created for dependent children. This is a need-based scholarship program meant to help finish the applicant’s first undergraduate degree. Like the Shinseki scholarship, this must be applied for each year and there is a maximum of four academic years’ worth of financial help offered. An estimated family contribution toward school expenses may be required.

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA)

CGMA offers a number of education grants and loan programs that can help qualifying service members and dependents. One of the major options under CGMA is the Stafford/PLUS Loan Fee Reimbursement program which allows qualifying students to apply for a refund of their Stafford/PLUS student loan fee at the end of each academic term.

You may also qualify for Coast Guard Supplemental Education Grants for up to $500 a year and families with more than one CGMA-eligible applicant per year are, if approved, entitled to up to $500 each.

All SEG grants are applied to the current calendar year, no matter when the education costs were incurred.    There is also a CGMA Education Loan program offering loans up to $3,000 to help with education costs.

What To Know About Military Aid Societies

Programs are subject to change year to year. Legislation, changes in the program, changes in the direction of the military aid society, and other variables may affect the availability of certain tuition assistance.

You may be subject to a cap on such financial aid and it’s important to know the terms and conditions of other financial aid programs you may be using to help pay for school as some might be required to be the “last payer” in the process. That means some financial aid may be dependent on what is left to pay once all other financial aid options are exhausted.

What Are Veteran Service Organizations?

A Veteran Service Organization (VSO) is an organization that is meant to serve veterans by helping them understand and claim VA benefits, seek employment, and readjust to civilian life. There are many VSOs operating on behalf of U.S. veterans; the DAV, VFW, AmVets, and many other familiar names all fall under the definition of a VSO.

What A Veteran Service Organization Can Help You Do

You can get help from a VSO to request information about VA benefits including GI Bill and VA mortgage options, but also:

  • Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E)
  • Life insurance
  • VA Pension
  • VA Health care
  • VA Burial benefits

A Veteran Service Organization can assist you in submitting claims, gathering supporting documentation, filing a claim or an appeal for you, and in some cases added support like transportation to VA appointments or other assistance may be offered. Each VSO has different options.

You can use a VSO to complete VA application forms for benefits, request more information about your benefits, appeal a VA decision that didn’t go in your favor, and many other options.

Finding a Veteran Service Organization is as easy as a Google search, but when looking online, be sure to include the search term “VA accredited VSO” (see below) for better results.

In addition to offering help navigating the Department of Veterans Affairs system, some VSOs may offer additional benefits or services; you may have access to certain veteran education or employment benefits offered by that organization.

Accredited Representatives And Federal Charters

Some VSOs (not all) offer the assistance of VA-accredited Veteran Service Officers. Those who are accredited have been submitted by their agency to the VA Office of General Counsel for review. Accredited VSOs typically have received training and meet a set of requirements for consideration. There is also continuing education required for all accredited VSOs.

Not all Veteran Service Organizations use accredited Veteran Service Officers. Those that do cannot charge fees in association for this assistance. This rule is necessary as VSOs are typically private enterprises and not operated by the federal government. Some agencies may not have their own officers, but refer their clients to an accredited representative.

Why use an accredited representative? They have been given training, are required to pass an exam, and there is no question of the fees associated with using one as they are not allowed to charge you for services rendered.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, becoming an accredited VSO requires the following:

  • Pass an exam
  • Submit to a background check
  • Take continuing education courses to maintain the accreditation

Recognized VSOs are allowed to “legally represent” a veteran, service member, dependent, or survivor for VA claims and services. “Non-recognized organizations and individuals can provide information” according to the VA official site, but they cannot serve the same as an accredited representative.

Federally Chartered VSOs

Some VSOs are federally chartered, meaning they are “recognized or approved by the VA Secretary” for the preparation, presentation, and follow-up of VA claims submitted on behalf of veteran clients. Being chartered typically requires the passage of a new law announcing the charter.

A federal charter is not necessarily an endorsement but to some, it is an indication that the agency in question has a track record with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As Congress.gov reminds us, “VSOs are not federal agencies. VSOs may be nonprofit organizations or state, county, tribal, or local government agencies. Employees who work for VSOs are not federal employees.”

Recognized Veterans Service Organizations?

A “recognized VSO” is one that has met federal requirements used by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Recognized VSOs may be national agencies, state-level, or local operations. These VSOs are not listed by name in the federal guidelines that govern them and the list may be expanded at the convenience of the federal government. What does it take to be federally recognized?

  • The organization’s primary purpose is to serve veterans;
  • The VSO must show a commitment to serving veterans via a “sizeable organizational membership”
  • The VSO must have a significant “performance of veterans services”
  • The VSO must commit a “significant portion” of the agency’s assets toward serving veterans
  • The VSO must submit proof that it represents veterans or can show them how to get representation

VSO Funding

Some federal funding options may be available, but VSOs are also funded privately, through grants, or even through state or local governments. The Department of Veterans Affairs itself chooses to offer funds to individual veterans rather than agencies but may make grants to both veterans and VSOs depending on the nature of the program.

What To Know About VSOs

Some agencies work closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs enough to warrant listing on their official site. These are typically national VSOs such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, and Vietnam Veterans of America.

You can typically find a list of VSOs in your area at your state government official site or your state-level Department of Veterans Affairs (not the federal agency of the same name).

Where To Find A VSO

Locate an accredited VSO through the eBenefits portal or you can search the VA General Counsel VSO list by name, city, state, or zip code.

 

VA Healthcare Benefits, Abortion, and Roe V. Wade

On Friday, June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade, the legal precedent which provided Constitutional protections for a woman’s right to choose for nearly five decades.

This move will likely trigger bans on certain reproductive healthcare services offered in approximately half of the United States according to the Associated Press; the move may also have some already in or becoming part of the VA healthcare system wondering what Department of Veterans Affairs policy will be on the issue going forward.

Does the Supreme Court action against Roe v. Wade affect VA health care programs or related policies for contraception, gender-affirming care, or other issues? We mention this because some sources including the Associated Press are reporting at least one Supreme Court justice calling for a similar review of gay marriage rights, contraception, and more. The short answer is “no”, for reasons we’ll explore below.

The VA Healthcare System

If you enroll in the VA healthcare system, you are opting to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide services that can help you recover from illness or injury, prevent future medical problems, and improve your quality of life.

The VA official site says, “All Veterans receive coverage for most care and services, but only some will qualify for added benefits like dental care”. If you qualify for VA medical benefits, the VA says you meet Affordable Care Act (ACA) health coverage requirements to carry minimum coverages.

VA care includes, but may not be limited to, the following:

  • Health exams
  • Health education
  • Immunization
  • Genetic disease counseling
  • Surgeries
  • Medical treatments
  • Acute care
  • Specialized care

The Department Of Veterans Affairs Policy On Abortion Services

What follows is a discussion limited strictly to whether or not VA healthcare funds are available for certain medical procedures. It is not a discussion of the VA position on the procedures themselves. We limit our reporting to the facts presented in official VA literature, and our discussion does not include speculation on future moves by the VA in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Prior to that ruling, and following it, the VA official site contains documentation that reflects specific policy on using the VA healthcare system for certain healthcare options including abortion.

What is that policy? The VA says abortion and abortion counseling are not part of a VA medical benefits package. Does the VA single out abortion here? No, there is a list of options that are not available, including:

  • Cosmetic surgery, unless the VA concludes the procedure is medically necessary;
  • Gender reassignment surgery
  • Health club or spa memberships
  • Medicine/medical devices not approved by the Food and Drug Administration with certain exceptions;
  • Inpatient hospital or outpatient care if another agency must provide the care by law.

VA Policy Versus Supreme Court Decision

As you might have guessed from the above, the Department of Veterans Affairs policy is not affected by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade; it was already VA policy to omit this type of healthcare from the list of options available.

Those who need abortion services or reproductive care should start their search at the local level depending on the state where they live. Some major companies are already promising support for employees who need to travel to states that have not made the procedure illegal or will not do so in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.

But at press time there is still a very big question mark as to what happens next across the nation with respect to these specific medical procedures.

The legal landscape for reproductive healthcare services is changing significantly and in the years to come there are bound to be legal challenges on both sides of the argument for or against. How those challenges play out may define the future of reproductive healthcare in America for generations to come.

 

 

Veterans Asbestos Exposure and VA Policy

Asbestos exposure related to military service is a serious issue. There are many ways to become exposed. Some military career fields have an elevated risk of asbestos exposure, and some types of military duty put troops at risk. Some are exposed and never develop a medical problem, while others may develop cancer, mesothelioma, or other health complications.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has resources available for those who may be at risk for health complications due to military service including asbestos-related conditions. What do you need to know about the condition and how to make a VA claim?

What Is Asbestos?

Believe it or not, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, not a man-made synthetic. Asbestos is a catch-all name for materials in a variety of fibrous mineral types but the consistent feature among those types is their heat resistance, making it good for certain types of products including brake pads, roofing and other construction materials, fabrics, and more. Asbestos was eventually banned from construction materials and the Environmental Protection Agency issued a Final Rule in the late 1980s banning most uses.

What About The Asbestos Ban?

Some might wonder why we write about asbestos exposure in the 21st century. Wasn’t the substance banned by the EPA as mentioned above? Isn’t asbestos a thing of the past?

No. Asbestos is still present in old buildings that have not had any remediation, it is present in certain manufactured products, and it is an ongoing issue for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Federal Register contains notices about federal law regarding asbestos. Some are shocked to learn that in spite of the EPA issuing a ban on “most uses” of asbestos in 1989, that ban did not last long. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it in New Orleans in 1990.

This ruling means that the 1989 asbestos regulation is only effective for what the EPA official site says are “new uses of asbestos in products that would be initiated for the first time after 1989”. The Circuit Court ruling did maintain or initiate a ban on certain asbestos-containing products. The EPA official site lists flooring felt, rollboard, plus “corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper.”

Who Is At Risk For Asbestos Exposure In The Military?

The Centers For Disease Control official site says asbestos exposure typically happens, “by breathing contaminated air in workplaces that make or use asbestos”. Furthermore, the CDC reminds, “Asbestos is also found in the air of buildings containing asbestos that are being torn down or renovated.”

Some types of military duty may have higher risks than others. For example, the VA advises those who work in any of the following fields they may be at elevated risk:

  • Carpentry
  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Mining
  • Milling
  • Shipyards

The VA advises you to get tested if you work in any of the above fields or if you have worked with products such as any of the following:

  • Flooring
  • Roofing
  • Cement
  • Pipes
  • Insulation
  • Clutch facings
  • Brake linings

But these fields and products aren’t the only risk factors. Those who serve in combat zones where asbestos has been used in the local construction could be exposed when those buildings are damaged or destroyed in combat. Asbestos, made airborne by an explosion, for example, could be a huge risk factor for any unprotected troops in the area.

Troops who have participated in combat operations in the Middle Easts or Southwest Asia may have been exposed in just this way. There is no way to definitively know how much risk is present in a given theater of operations but the Department of Veterans Affairs has a “presumptive conditions” policy in such cases that may assume exposure occurred based on the theater of operations and the nature of the operations there. Much depends on the condition, circumstances, and other variables.

How The Department of Veterans Affairs Defines Asbestos Exposure

The VA official site begins the discussion of the asbestos issue with a disclaimer of sorts.

“Asbestos exposure can cause a number of health effects. Whether a service member develops health effects as a result of their asbestos exposure depends on several factors such as how much substance an individual was exposed to and for how long or whether or not that person had a pre-existing condition.”

The pre-existing condition issue is key; you may not be approved for a VA disability rating associated with asbestos if you had a pre-existing condition tied to your current medical issues.

When reviewing this information it is important to remember that the VA does not compensate people for asbestos exposure itself, but rather for associated health effects from that exposure. Working around or with hazardous materials is not an automatic path to a VA disability rating; those who develop health issues as a result of doing so must file VA claims for specific medical issues including:

  • Asbestosis, described by the VA as, “scarring of lung tissue” that results in difficulty breathing or other issues.
  • Pleural plaques, which the VA describes as, “scarring in the inner surface of the ribcage and area surrounding the lungs”.
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining surrounding the lung or abdominal cavity.

If you were exposed to asbestos during military service, it’s crucial to be screened for these medical issues. If you develop or already have symptoms you may be eligible to apply for VA compensation but you must have a military discharge not characterized as Dishonorable.

What To Know About Asbestos Exposure

You can be tested for asbestos-related issues. The CDC reminds that asbestos fibers can be detected in a variety of ways including tests of urine, feces, or “lung washings”. The CDC advises, “Higher than average levels of asbestos fibers in tissue can confirm exposure but not determine whether you will experience any health effects.”

You will need to provide a comprehensive health history, undergo an examination, and go through testing to evaluate a potential asbestos-related condition. Some believe chest x-rays are the most effective screening option for certain types of conditions, but CAT scans and lung function testing are also options.

Smoking is an issue that can directly affect your health when dealing with asbestos exposure. The majority of government agencies offering advice on these medical issues agree; smoking can aggravate or complicate an asbestos-related condition.

Filing A Claim With The VA

Have you been diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition? Do you need to file a claim for suspected asbestos-related issues? This process is the same as filing any other claim for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues. You will need to describe your symptoms, show records of any treatment or diagnosis, you may be required to undergo a VA screening for the symptoms or conditions you report, and you will be required to get a medical statement from a doctor who agrees there is a connection between your condition and your military service.

One crucial part of your claim? Something called a “buddy letter”. This is documentation you gather from friends and family members; basically, you want a letter explaining what your friend or a family member has observed related to how your medical issues affect your quality of life, your ability to work, etc.

You should gather as many of these as necessary to reinforce your claim.

If you are currently serving, it may be a good idea to seek a second opinion from a civilian healthcare provider in addition to any evidence you already have in your medical records. This is crucial in cases where there may be ambiguity in the diagnosis or you are worried there may be ambiguity. A second opinion can go a long way toward helping your cause. That said, there are no guarantees, much depends on the outcome of your second opinion. You also have the ability to seek a second opinion from a military medical provider rather than a civilian one.

Serious health issues take time to diagnose and your journey toward VA compensation may take longer than you realize. Start as early as you can, especially in gathering your supporting documents.

 

VA Burial Benefits

Funeral planning is something we all try not to think about until there’s a reason to do so. Veterans and their families have VA burial benefit options they can use including a VA burial allowance that can offset the cost of paying for funeral services when the time comes. What do you need to know about these benefits and how to apply?

VA Burial Benefits at a Glance

Qualifying veterans and their families may be eligible for some or all of the following options offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs:

  • Burial in a VA cemetery
  • VA Burial Allowance
  • Memorial Items
  • Bereavement Counseling

These benefits are typically not automatic and must be applied for. There are rules of eligibility for each benefit.

Some are not eligible for certain burial benefits. For example, if you want to be considered for burial in a VA cemetery, you have to meet criteria applicable to your category.

As a veteran, you are ineligible for burial in a VA cemetery if you have a discharge characterized as dishonorable or you were discharged with a “character of service” that renders you ineligible. Some family members are not eligible. They include:

  • Former spouses (divorce or annulment);
  • Family members of a veteran “convicted of subversive activities’ according to the VA official site;
  • Family members who don’t meet VA eligibility requirements.

It’s always best to discuss your needs with a VA rep prior to actually needing them; you’ll want to know that you or your family member qualifies for VA death or burial benefits ahead of time.

Burial In a VA Cemetery

Are you or your family members allowed to be buried in a VA cemetery? One of the following must be true to qualify to do so:

  • You are a veteran without a dishonorable discharge, or;
  • The person qualifying for burial benefits is a service member who died while on active duty, or;
  • The benefit is for a spouse or minor child of a veteran, even if the Veteran died first, or;
  • The benefit is for the unmarried adult dependent child of a Veteran

Some want to know about specific burial arrangements. For example, there are those who want to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. The VA does not administer this particular facility, it is run by the United States Army and you will need to coordinate burial there through a funeral home director.

The VA Burial Allowance

The VA Burial Allowance is provided to help survivors offset the expenses related to burial. This can include funds for transportation, the funeral itself, and burial costs. In the literature for these benefits, you will see references to “surviving spouses”.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes all legally married couples regardless of orientation. Same-sex marriages are formally recognized by the VA and when it is time to claim benefits, these couples are not left out of the offer.

The VA official site says you may be eligible for a VA burial allowance in cases where you, the applicant, are paying for the burial and funeral costs, “…and you won’t be reimbursed by any other organization, like another government agency or the Veteran’s employer.”

One of the following must be true to qualify for this benefit:

  • The applicant is the Veteran’s surviving spouse.
  • The applicant is the surviving partner from a legal union (a relationship made formal in a document issued by the state recognizing the union).
  • The applicant is a surviving child of the veteran.
  • The applicant is a parent of the veteran.
  • The applicant is the executor or administrator of the veteran’s estate in an official capacity.

The circumstances of the veteran’s death are also important. One of the following must apply to draw the burial benefit:

  • The veteran died as a result of a service-connected disability.
  • The veteran died while getting VA care.
  • The veteran died while traveling (with VA authorization, and at VA’s expense) either to or from a facility for an examination, or to receive care.
  • The veteran died with a claim for VA compensation or pension pending at the time of death if they would’ve been entitled to benefits before the time of death.
  • The veteran died while receiving a VA pension.
  • The veteran died while receiving VA compensation.

This is not an exhaustive list of qualifications; other rules may also apply. Some cannot qualify for this burial allowance. If the person died on active duty, or while serving as a member of Congress, or while serving a federal prison sentence they are not allowed this benefit.

Applying for the VA Burial Allowance

When you apply for the VA burial allowance you will need to gather some documentation. You’ll need the death certificate, the veteran’s military discharge paperwork such as DD Form 214 for active duty service members. You will need to provide copies of receipts and other documentation of the expenses charged for burial and related services such as transporting remains, etc.

The VA also requires a statement of account from the funeral director or cemetery owner that has specific details including:

  • The veteran’s name
  • The type of services provided
  • Any credits
  • Any unpaid balance

Most VA death benefits are not automatic but if you are the surviving spouse of the deceased veteran you do not have to file a claim. This is true “as long as you’re listed as the Veteran’s spouse on the Veteran’s profile” according to VA.gov.

VA.gov reminds applicants, “When we receive notice of the Veteran’s death, we automatically pay a set amount to those eligible surviving spouses to help pay for the plot, the cost of internment, or transportation of the remains to the cemetery.” For any other VA benefit in this area, it’s not safe to assume the benefit will automatically be awarded.

Other VA Death Benefits

You can apply for other VA benefits related to burial or interment. The VA has an application process for you to request memorial items such as a veteran headstone or grave marker, burial flags, and Presidential Memorial Certificates.

There may be varying requirements for some of these options. If you want a Presidential Memorial Certificate, for example, the veteran must be eligible for burial in a national cemetery, and the person requesting the certificate must be next of kin, a member of the extended family, or an authorized representative.

The requirement for a burial flag, on the other hand, includes the following:

  • The veteran must have served in wartime, or;
  • The veteran died while serving on active duty after May 27, 1941, or;
  • The veteran’s military service was after January 31, 1955, or;
  • The veteran served in peacetime and left military service before June 27, 1950, after serving at least one enlistment, or because of a service-connected disability.

As you can see, some benefits have more requirements than others. These are always subject to change due to legislation, alterations to VA programs, or other variables. It’s best to call ahead to learn what changes may have been implemented since the last time you researched your options.

Time Limits for Applying

The Department of Veterans Affairs requires you to file a claim for certain burial benefits within two years of the burial or cremation, but there is no time limit to apply for a service-connected burial plot or burial. Deadlines and other requirements are always subject to change. Be sure to ask if there are new rules or procedures that may apply. Program changes can come via federal legislation, changes in the industry, modifications to VA programs, or other variables.

 

 

VA Health Benefits for Military Spouses and Dependents

Are you the spouse or child of a veteran? If so, you may already be familiar with some VA benefits, but did you know that children and legally married spouses of veterans may also be entitled to certain VA benefits?

You may not be required to have any military service to apply for some VA benefits. Some of these are related to the death of the service member such as VA burial benefits and what the VA terms “survivor compensation”.

Other benefits may be offered to those providing care for a veteran. Some are offered to all qualifying spouses or children, others may be need-specific such as VA options for those formally acting as caregivers whether related or not.

VA Healthcare Options For Military Spouses And Dependents

Military spouses are likely already familiar with TRICARE, the military’s comprehensive health coverage program managed by the Department of Defense.

But did you know that you may qualify for TRICARE if you’re a family member of a retired or deceased service member, or a Medal of Honor awardee? The Department of Veterans Affairs encourages all who may be eligible to apply in addition to requesting any applicable benefits through the VA.

Not all dependents and spouses can qualify for TRICARE on their own. For example, if you are the spouse of a military member who has separated, but not retired from the military, you would not be eligible to apply. But if you are the spouse of a military member who qualified for and received a military pension, you may be eligible. Other restrictions may apply.

Dependent children of service members who have died on active duty or who have retired may qualify depending on circumstances. Age and marital status may be a factor in determining eligibility.

Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA)

The spouse and children of veterans with VA-rated disabilities and those whose parent or spouse died in the line of duty may qualify for CHAMPVA, which is a cost-sharing program that distributes the payment of your medical care between you and the Department of Veterans Affairs. If you do not qualify for TRICARE, look into this option as a dependent or spouse.

You may qualify for CHAMPVA if any of the following applies, starting with a requirement that you were not eligible for TRICARE:

  • The applicant is the spouse or child of a Veteran who’s been VA-rated permanently and totally disabled for a service-connected disability or;
  • The applicant is a surviving spouse or child of a Veteran who died from a VA-rated service-connected disability, or;
  • The applicant is a surviving spouse or child of a Veteran who was at the time of death rated permanently and totally disabled from a service-connected disability, or;
  • The applicant is a surviving spouse or child of a service member who died in the line of duty, and not due to misconduct.

If you qualify for CHAMPVA, you may also be eligible for certain pharmacy benefits including the VA Meds By Mail program. Program requirements are subject to change, contact the VCA directly to learn what the most current benefits and requirements are for these options.

It pays to start early, and if you are applying from an overseas location be sure to build in extra time for processing and other details. Not all VA healthcare benefits are available in all VA locations, check with a VA Regional Office to learn what you may need to travel for and what may be offered in your area.

The VA Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers

Spouses and children who need support and services while caring for an injured veteran family member should explore this program. You may be entitled to financial help, health insurance, counseling, training, and respite care. Eligibility depends on meeting all the requirements below:

  • The applicant must be at least 18 years old;
  • The applicant is a child, stepchild, extended family member, or spouse of a qualifying veteran;
  • The applicant must live full-time with the veteran or must be willing to do so.
  • The veteran must have a VA disability rating of 70% or higher.
  • The veteran must have been caused on or after September 11, 2001, or on/before May 7, 1975.
  • The Veteran must have a military discharge.
  • The Veteran must require a minimum of six months of continuous, in-person care services

“Care services” in this context means everyday health, personal needs, and safety. The caregiver and the veteran must apply for this benefit together.

When you are approved for this program you may be eligible to receive caregiver training for qualifying primary and secondary care providers, mental health counseling, and even financial assistance for travel and lodging when providing care.

The veteran can name one primary caregiver and two secondary care providers. If you are approved as a care provider you may be entitled to a monthly payment, access to care through CHAMPVA, and you may also qualify to get a month of respite care services.

The Camp Lejeune Family Member Program

If you lived at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune for 30 consecutive days or more between 1953 and 1987, you may qualify for the Camp Lejeune Family Member program. Why? You “may have had contact with contaminants in the drinking water there” according to the VA official site. The contaminants you may have been exposed to are known to contribute to “certain diseases later on” according to the VA.

If you have been diagnosed with any of the following, contact the VA immediately to learn how to apply for this important program:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia
  • “Other” myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Female infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurobehavioral effects
  • Renal toxicity
  • Scleroderma
  • Hepatic steatosis

When applying for this program, you will need to provide certain documentation including:

  • A document proving your relationship to the veteran who served on active duty for at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune. This can be a marriage certificate, birth certificate for dependents, etc.)
  • A bill, tax record, lease agreement, or other paperwork proving you lived at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River for at least 30 days from August 1953 through December 1987.
  • Medical records that show you have a qualifying condition like those listed above.

You may need to file a VA claim for disability compensation in association with these conditions, and filing that claim will require evidence. You should count on needing to gather any military medical records plus any information you can get from civilian care, out-of-network care, etc. Any supporting documentation from family and friends such as letters explaining how your condition has affected your ability to live, work, and enjoy your life.

The VA Children of Women Vietnam Veterans Health Care Benefits Program

Are you the biological child of a woman Vietnam War Veteran? If you have been diagnosed with certain birth defects, you may qualify for VA health care benefits that can help you pay for any services you need related to birth defects or “related medical conditions.” To qualify, VA rules say you must have been “conceived after the date the Veteran entered the Republic of Vietnam (period beginning Feb. 28, 1961, and ending May 7, 1975), and who have one of the covered birth defects as determined by the VBA”

To apply, mail a completed Application for Benefits For Certain Children of Vietnam Veterans With Disabilities, VA Form 21-0304, along with your supporting medical evidence (see above) to the address listed on the form. If you qualify, the Department of Veterans Affairs notifies the VA Office of Community Care and your enrollment in the programs from there is “automatic” according to the VA official site.

These are not the only benefits available. Contact the Department Of Veterans Affairs for more information on what you may be entitled to based on your qualifications.

 

Department of Veterans Affairs Resources for LGBTQ+ Veterans

What does the Department of Veterans Affairs offer to veterans who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community? LGBTQ+ refers in this context to a large group of people who include but are not limited to veterans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer.

The VA official site adds that the plus sign, “+”, acknowledged “identities beyond LGBTQ, including but not limited to questioning, pansexual, asexual, agender, gender diverse, nonbinary, gender-neutral, and other identities.”

This community has long struggled to be seen and recognized. There is an old adage amongst a certain generation of military members; that the military is essentially a microcosm of American society. LGBTQ+ Americans are part of that society and as such deserve the same rights and responsibilities associated with military service as any other American.

To this end, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs official site offers a formal welcome for this community, formerly marginalized by “gay ban” recruitment policies, and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell era. The VA welcome is all the more significant in light of the more recent ban (and repeal of it) on certain transgender applicants from 2017 to early 2021.

The VA Formal Welcome Of LGBTQ+ Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs official site includes a formal welcome of “all Veterans, families, caregivers, and survivor beneficiaries, including diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. “LGBTQ+” refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer identities.”

The page adds, “LGBTQ+ Veterans have faced stigma and discrimination, which can affect health. As a healthcare institution, we need to make sure that LGBTQ+ Veterans know that they are welcome at Veterans Health Administration (VHA).”

VA Resources For LGBTQ+ Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers an LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator “at every facility”, and offers a resource locator tool to help you find the nearest VA facility to you. The VA offers the same options for all vets including LGBTQ+ veterans for suicide prevention, substance abuse treatment, tobacco cessation, help for intimate partner violence, and military sexual trauma issues. Other options include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Infertility care
  • Heart health
  • Cancer screening
  • Virtual mental health care options

When you make a claim for VA medical benefits or compensation for service-connected medical issues, you may be asked about your identity or other health-related issues in the context of what you may need in terms of support.

If you need to have a conversation with a VA representative about your identity, your medical needs as related specifically to your identity, or other issues, you can do so privately and with the help of a VA coordinator specifically assigned to you at your request. It’s a good idea to discuss any such needs as early as possible in your VA application process to ensure you get the help, care, or information you need.

Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs directly for information about these options. You can call their main number at 1-800-827-1000.

Gender Transitioning And The VA

Past rules prevented the Department of Veterans Affairs from offering gender-affirming care, but in 2021 the Department of Veterans Affairs began a process to eliminate that restriction.

According to the VA, veterans are at press time offered “all medically necessary gender-affirming care to transgender Veterans with the exception of gender-affirming surgical interventions”. This lack of surgical support is due to how the VA medical benefits package was previously structured.

The VA acknowledges in writing, “Gender-affirming procedures have been proven effective at mitigating serious health conditions” including dysphoria, substance abuse, and more. The VA is actively working to end the exclusion for surgical support.

The VA official position on this issue seems to indicate an acknowledgment that veterans who seek such procedures will eventually get the treatment they seek. VA’s role in this process? Revising the medical benefits package “would enable a safe, coordinated continuum of care that is Veteran-centric and consistent with VA’s values of equity and respect for all Veterans.”

And the term “all veterans” is key to understanding VA policy.

Getting Transition-Related Care At The VA

The first step in getting access to transition-related care and resources at the VA is to enroll in the VA medical system. Have you started or do you need to start a VA claims process for service-connected medical issues? If so you’re already well on your way. But if you have not, you can apply online by filling out VA form 10-10EZ. You can apply in person at any VA healthcare facility or VA benefits office.

Gender Affirming Treatments

The VA provides certain gender-affirming care options including support for veterans who identify as non-binary.

At press time, the VA provides medically necessary gender-affirming care including but not limited to:

  • Speech therapy
  • Prosthetics
  • Binders
  • Infertility treatment
  • Hormone therapy
  • Pre/post-operative care

Seeking or requesting this care does not negatively affect your eligibility for VA services, benefits, disability payments or other options.

What You Need To Apply

  • Social Security numbers for you and immediate family members (spouse, children)
  • Military discharge documents
  • Insurance card information including any applicable Medicare, private insurance, or insurance from an employer.
  • Gross household income from the previous calendar year for you, your spouse, and your dependents.
  • Your deductible expenses for the past year. Include health care and education costs.

Your application may require other documentation depending on circumstances. It’s best to talk to a VA rep before submitting. Once you have enrolled in the system you are assigned a primary care provider who can refer you to a counselor who can discuss your needs including evaluations for hormone therapy.

Call the VA at 877-222-8387, Monday through Friday during typical business hours for assistance with your application.

Applying with a Power of Attorney is possible but you will need to discuss this with a VA representative. Be prepared to submit a copy of your Power of Attorney along with any supporting documentation you may need.

Veterans Who Need to Change Their Legal Name With The VA

Veterans who transition and need to change their legal name to reflect their identity have options for doing so in the VA system. The procedures below describe how to change a name in the VA records system and presume the applicant has already been through the process of having their name legally changed on their photo IDs and other documents.

To change your legal name in the VA medical records system, start by making an appointment with a VA facility Privacy Officer who can get you the paperwork needed to begin. Getting started requires at least one current, unexpired document showing your legally changed name:

  • State-Issued Driver’s License with photo
  • Passport with photo
  • Federal, State, or Local Government-issued photo ID (must include your date of birth)
  • Social Security Card (must be accompanied by a current photo ID)
  • Court Order for a Name Change (Must be accompanied by an unexpired government-issued photo ID that includes the old or new name)

If you need care, advice, or information about any of these options for LGBTQ+ veterans, contact the VA directly. In spite of previous eras where being LGBTQ+ was stigmatized and actively penalized in some cases, the Department of Veterans Affairs has doubled down on its commitment to serving ALL veterans.

The needs of this important segment of the veteran community are just as important as the needs of other demographics; those who serve come from all backgrounds and all walks of life.

 

Veteran Readiness and Employment Program (VR&E)

What is the Veteran Readiness and Employment Program (VR&E)?

Some veterans retire or separate from military service in perfect health. Others may have VA-related disabilities related to service-connected medical issues or injuries. When a veteran receives a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, they aren’t necessarily precluded from starting a new career and working a civilian job.

But some injuries, illnesses, and disabilities do interfere with the ability to find and maintain employment. If you are a veteran with a qualifying VA-rated disability that affects your ability to find or keep a job, there is VA help in the form of a program called Veteran Readiness and Employment program.

Formerly branded as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VOC REHAB), the program is informally known as VR&E and features five “tracks” that can help veterans find support and services that are designed to help people live more independently.

Each track has a different emphasis, and you may wish to explore multiple tracks to get the most value from these services. In typical cases, these programs are aimed at those who have retired or separated, but there are exceptions made for some who are close to final out-processing or are otherwise scheduled to depart active duty service.

Programs like these are subject to change due to legislation, program modification, demand, or other factors. What follows is current at press time but it’s a good idea to call the VA directly (at 1-800-827-1000) to get the latest updates on benefits that may apply to you.

Who Is Eligible for VA VR&E?

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, you may be eligible to apply for VR&E benefits and services if you do NOT have a dishonorable discharge and your VA disability rating is at least 10%. If you meet these requirements, you may apply and be scheduled for an evaluation with a VR&E counselor who will make a final eligibility determination.

If you left active duty on or after January 1, 2013, you have no time limit on your VR&E eligibility.

Some veterans, depending on when they joined, may have a time limit on claiming these benefits. This applies to those who left active duty prior to 2013. In these cases, you have 12 years to use these benefits. The clock begins on either the date you left active duty or the date you were first notified of your VA disability rating, whichever date is later.

Extensions May Be Possible

The 12-year eligibility period for VR&E benefits could be longer if the VA determines you have what they define as a “serious employment handicap”, which basically means your VA-rated disability “significantly limits your ability to prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment”.

In this case, the VA definition of “suitable employment” means a job that doesn’t aggravate your disability, and “matches your abilities, aptitudes, and interests” according to the VA official site.

A Note About Those Still On Active Duty Looking for VR&E Information

VR&E is typically used by veterans but if you are still on active duty you may be able to apply if you meet certain requirements including:

  • You must have a 20% or higher pre-discharge disability rating and are due to retire or separate soon or;
  • You’re awaiting discharge due to a medical issue that occurred while you were on active duty.
  • VA literature says “severely injured” active-duty service members “can automatically receive VR&E benefits before VA issues a disability rating”.

You may be allowed to file a VA claim for disability benefits through the VA Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) Program between 180 to 90 days before you retire or separate.

VR&E Tracks

What follows are the program descriptions for all VR&E tracks in the program, which include:

  • Reemployment
  • Rapid Access To Employment
  • Self-Employment
  • Employment Through Long-Term Services
  • Independent Living

Reemployment Track

The VR&E Reemployment track is designed to help service members return to a former job they held “before deployment” according to the official site. This track includes the following options:

  • VR&E Special Employer Incentives (SEI) program for qualifying vets “who might face challenges finding employment”;
  • VR&E Non-Paid Work Experience (NPWE) program is an option for qualifying vets who “have an established career goal and learn easily in a hands-on environment—or are having trouble getting a job due to lack of work experience.”
  • Help may be available from VR&E employment coordinators. These can be found at VA regional offices.

Rapid Access to Employment Track

This is the track you should consider if you want to use your existing job skills rather than looking for a new type of employment. You may qualify for benefits under this track if the following are true:

  • You have an employment handicap, and;
  • You are enrolled in VR&E, and;
  • You have experience, education, or training in the career field you seek employment in.

This program offers job search tools, vocational counseling, resume help, and assistance with determining veterans hiring preferences for state jobs, Civil Service, etc.

Self-Employment Track

The Self-Employment track can help you start your own business. Note that this track is not meant to provide funding for a small business, but rather to teach strategies for small business success. That may include:

  • Coordination services
  • Help in developing a business plan
  • Analysis of your small business concept
  • Training in small-business operations
  • Training in small business marketing
  • Training in small business finance

Like the other tracks mentioned above, the Self-Employment track includes options such as additional training, but for self-employed applicants, it may be a good idea to consider the VA offer of counseling for those making the transition from military to civilian careers. Especially if you have been out of the civilian marketplace for some time.

Employment Through Long-Term Services track

This option is designed for veterans who want training and education so they can transition into a new career field. You may be offered the following services related to this track including:

  • A job skills assessment
  • Career counseling
  • Evaluation of the current job market
  • Education/training
  • Apprenticeships
  • On-the-job training
  • Volunteer options
  • Employment assistance

In this track, you may be referred to Department of Labor resources to further assist you in your search for a new career.

Independent Living Track

Are you retiring or separating from the military and cannot go back to work immediately? You may qualify for up to 24 months of benefits including counseling and evaluation to help you establish and meet your independent living goals as well as referrals to support agencies which may also be able to help.

This track also includes evaluations and recommendations for adaptive housing programs that can be used to make a home more accessible for those with service-connected medical issues. You may qualify for an adaptive housing grant or other benefits; this track will help you learn what programs and grants you could qualify for.

What’s Next

If you anticipate getting a VA rating and want to start exploring your VR&E benefits, contact the VA directly and ask to get an appointment with a VA benefits counselor or rep who can help you determine what you may qualify for and when. If you have not left active duty yet, you can ask for more information from your command support staff, first individual, Command Sergeant Major, or other support staff about how and when to claim VA benefits such as VR&E.

Remember that to start any post-discharge VA benefit you may be required to submit a DD Form 214 Report of Discharge or the Guard/Reserve equivalent. Safeguard this important paperwork once you get it from your final out-processing appointment.

You’ll be glad you did. If you are retiring or separating from an overseas location, be sure to keep a digital copy of your discharge paperwork stored safely as a hard copy but also save it in the cloud such as a Google Drive account or a Dropbox account for safekeeping.

 

 

 

Managing Your VA Benefits Online

If you are retiring or separating from military service, you will need to set up an account with the Department of Veterans Affairs in order to begin claiming VA benefits such as the GI Bill, or VA compensation for service-connected medical issues.

You’ll typically be asked to submit documentation online to begin or continue applications for VA benefits, and while there are reasonable accommodations made for those who use these online resources, you may find that submitting online is the most efficient method.

Your VA benefits may be approved much faster when you don’t rely on the U.S. mail or even in-person delivery of records and applications.

Why It’s Better to Manage Your VA Benefits Online

There are good reasons to submit online. One is that your application goes into the system right away and you may be added to the waiting list (where applicable) immediately. When you submit by mail or even in person, your application has to be delivered to the correct office, it has to be reviewed and put into the system.

Your spot on any applicable waiting list won’t be reserved until that documentation is entered into the system, and not necessarily when it arrives at the VA office.

Some will read this knowing they aren’t very tech-savvy. Some don’t know how to make an electronic copy of their documents and submit it by email or via online forms. Are these people doomed to wait at the back of the line every time just because they can’t or don’t want to submit online?

In cases where it’s simply a matter of not knowing how to create or send the forms, a Veterans Service Organization can help.

These are private agencies that have trained professionals available to help veterans file claims with the VA. The VSO is an advocate for veteran benefits and there are many familiar names on the list of agencies that may be able to help.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Red Cross, DAV, Fleet Reserve Association, and many others have professionals who can help you submit your documents to the VA in the most efficient manner possible.

How to Manage Your VA Benefits Online

In many cases, you can manage your VA benefits using VA.gov (see below) but for some issues, like requesting your military records, you will need to use a different platform. In the specific case of military records, you will log into milConnect or create an account there.

For managing VA direct deposit payments, health benefits, and other issues, you can create an account or sign in to VA.gov to manage your benefits. If aren’t sure whether you need to create an account, know that you can use an existing login to access VA.gov from the following:

  • Login.gov
  • ID.me
  • DS Logon
  • My HealtheVet

If you don’t have an account with any of the above, create a free account using Login.gov or ID.me. Once you have established that you have access to VA.gov, you can log in to accomplish a number of things including:

  • Changing Direct Deposit information
  • Change your address
  • Request military records, including DD Form 214
  • Access your VA records and documents online

Changing Direct Deposit Information

If you need to log in to change your Direct Deposit details, you’ll need some important information to make those changes. The first is the full name of the financial institution you’re using and your account number.

You will also need to provide the routing number for your account which is listed on most paper checks next to the account number. You can get the routing number for your account from your bank or log into the bank’s official site and view your routing number among your other account details.

If you need to change your Direct Deposit information because you have been the victim of fraud or identity theft, call the VA directly at their toll-free hotline 1-800 827-1000 and explain your circumstances.

Changing Your Address

If you anticipate a move, especially after your final out-processing appointment, it’s smart to change your address at VA.gov first.

Why? Because updating your account at VA.gov updates your address and contact information across a variety of VA benefit and service records including:

  • VA health care including prescriptions, appointment reminders, labs, test results, and communications from the VA medical center you’re using;
  • Disability compensation;
  • Pension benefits;
  • Claims;
  • Appeals;
  • Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E)

Some VA benefits or services won’t get your updated address when you use VA.gov. Some VA departments keep separate records for contact information, so if you use or plan to use any of the following VA services, you must update them directly:

  • VA Education benefits
  • VA Home loan benefits
  • Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance
  • CHAMPVA
  • The VA Foreign Medical Program

Requesting Military Records

This is one of the situations where you won’t use VA.gov. An official site called milConnect offers you the ability to request your military records, but you will need a Premium DS Logon account to get started. The credentials you have from MyHealtheVet or ID.me credentials do not work for milConnect.

Once you have signed in, you will have the option to select a variety of Defense Personnel Records Information documents including:

  • DD214
  • DD215
  • Any other applicable military discharge documents
  • Orders and endorsements
  • Performance reports
  • Awards
  • Decorations
  • Qualifications
  • Licenses, and certificates
  • Security clearance

When you apply for any of these records, you’ll be notified when the request is finished and your documents are available to download.

Accessing VA Records

You have access to VA records and documentation but also to VA-provided veteran ID cards and even to order hearing aids and other medical needs online from the VA. This access, like the other types discussed here, requires a VA.gov login and you can use any of the other login options mentioned above (MyHealtheVet, DS Logon, ID.me, etc.) to get started.

Among the options open to you, VA Blue Button is a feature you may want to get very familiar with. It’s described (by the VA official site) as a “feature of the My HealtheVet health management portal” so you will need to have an account with MyHealtheVet to print, download, and share information from VA medical records.

You can use VA Blue Button to create a custom report from your VA and military medical records. You can request a VA Health Summary that’s compiled from your VA records and you can enter your own medical data such as vaccines, lab results, personal experience with allergies, etc. All this information can be shared with your VA health care team.

What to Know About Managing VA Benefits Online

It’s important to safeguard your personal data. If you are updating your benefits online it is a good idea to ensure you do so in a safe area, away from the prying eyes of other people. Some must update their records using computers in a public library or other public space.

If you have to do so, try to ensure your data is not visible to others while reviewing or downloading. It helps if the screen you are using does not face a public area. If you are concerned about privacy when updating online, remember that you don’t have to view and update these files without assistance; a veteran service organization can help you securely review and save your information. You don’t have to resort to a public internet connection or a computer that isn’t in a private space.

 

 

 

What Forms Do I Need to Apply for VA Disability?

VA Disability Forms: What You Need to Know

If you are getting ready to retire or separate from the United States military, chances are good you are already thinking about applying for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues. If you have already applied and received a decision, you may be wondering how you can increase your VA disability compensation.

There are three basic ways you can apply for compensation or increased compensation. One is to apply directly to the VA yourself (see below). Another is to get the assistance of a Veteran Service Organization (VSO) such as the DAV, VFW, or other VSOs who help vets apply for their benefits.

You can also apply for or get advice on applying for VA compensation with the help of a third-party lawyer who specializes in such claims. No matter which option you choose, both applications require specific forms, and you’ll need to create or maintain a VA.gov account to submit your VA forms, supporting evidence, and other documentation.

Creating or Using a VA.Gov Account to Start Your Claim

You are required to create or continue to use an account at VA.gov for your VA medical claims. If you have an existing account you can log in using one of the following:

  • Login.gov
  • MyHealtheVet
  • DS Logon
  • IDme

If you do not have a VA.gov account you can create one using Login.gov or IDme.

When you have created your account, the VA official site may be able to prefill some of your information on the claim form. You won’t be required to fill out the entire form in one sitting, you can save your progress and return to the form. Knowing this ahead of time is helpful since the information you include on the form may be lengthy.

You have a full year between the start of your paperwork to submit the claim. After one year, an unsubmitted application will be deleted.

When it is time to fill out the claim paperwork, be sure to remember the advice from the VA itself about providing supporting evidence from all treatment centers (military and civilian) that may have information about your conditions.

You may need to gather statements from friends and family members to support your claim. These statements should include observations about how your life has been affected by the injuries or medical conditions you are claiming. You may need to file additional forms if you have a dependent, need to apply for VA “aid and attendance” benefits, etc.

VA Forms for Disability Compensation

The basic form you will need to apply for VA Disability Compensation is VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits. You must sign in before starting this form as it cannot be saved otherwise. When you begin the form you are telling the VA you intend to file for disability compensation and the one-year countdown begins.

Filing for Increased Disability Compensation

If you already receive VA compensation but need to be reevaluated for an increased claim, there is a series of steps to take beginning with calling a Veteran Service Organization or the VA itself to discuss your claim. You can call the VA directly and ask to speak to a counselor about an increased disability claim.

Like your original VA application, you’ll need to provide specific medical evidence that an increased disability rating is warranted. Do you have medical evidence that shows a condition growing worse or not improving? Can you gather letters from family and friends to support your request for increased VA benefits? You will also need to submit both VA care records and private care documentation.

Act as Soon as You Know You Need to Apply

Filing for increased compensation means getting into a first-come, first-served line that could take longer than you anticipate to get through. That is why it can be important to act as soon as you know you need to apply for an increase in your VA disability rating. When you go to the VA official site and explore the link for applying for a VA benefits increase, that link takes you to the same form as you used to apply for your initial VA compensation claim.

If you aren’t sure about filling out the form in order to apply for a new review, call the Department of Veterans Affairs directly at 1-800-827-1000. The form itself does address those who are using it to have their original claim(s) reviewed:

“If VA previously granted service connection for your disability and you are seeking an increased evaluation of your service-connected disability, we need medical or lay evidence to show a worsening or increase in severity and the effect that worsening or increase has on your ability to work”.

That is one reason why the “friends and family letters” or “buddy letters” mentioned above are so important; the VA needs to have such information to approve or deny your request.

What to Know About Applying for VA Disability

Whether you are applying your initial claim or requesting that the VA take another look at your condition(s), there are special circumstances that may require you to submit additional paperwork to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

VA Specially Adapted Housing grant or a VA Special Home Adaptation Grant?

For example, are you applying for a VA Specially Adapted Housing grant? Or a VA Special Home Adaptation grant? You’ll need to submit VA Form 26-4555, Application in Acquiring Specially Adapted Housing or Special Home Adaptation Grant. Such grants are offered to veterans with qualifying service-connected injuries. Not all veterans qualify, ask a VA representative for assistance with these VA grants.

VA Auto Allowance

Do you need to apply for a VA auto allowance along with your disability claim? These allowances may provide funds to adapt a vehicle for qualifying disabilities. You will need to submit VA Form 21-4502, Application for Automobile or Other Conveyance and Adaptive Equipment

VA Claims Including PTSD

Does your VA claim include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? You will need VA Form 21-0781, Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD Claim “Based on Personal Assault”

If you are making a PTSD claim “based on personal assault” you will need VA Form 21-0781a, Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Secondary to Personal Assault.

VA Disability Compensation

The Department of Veterans Affairs reminds those applying for VA disability compensation to submit VA Form 21-4142, Authorization to Disclose Information to the Department of Veterans Affairs. This form allows the VA to pull your medical records from certain veteran treatment facilities where applicable.

Claiming Dependents

If you are claiming dependents as part of your VA compensation package, be sure to fill out VA Form 21-686c, Application Request to Add and/or Remove Dependents. The Department of Veterans Affairs also requires VA Form 21-674, Request for Approval of School Attendance when claiming a school-age dependent between 18 and 23.

Individual Unemployability

When filing your VA claim, if you are applying for Individual Unemployability, the VA requires VA Form 21-8940, Veteran’s Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability.

 

Summary

There are many forms that could apply depending on the nature of your claim, the nature of your service-connected medical issues, and the type of military service you performed.

It never hurts to contact the VA directly to ask questions about the process if you need help understanding any aspect of it. It doesn’t pay to be in a hurry or to call when you are pressed for time; VA call volumes are large and it’s best to plan your call for when you have enough time to wait out the “on hold” portion of the experience. If time is of the essence, it may be a good idea to get help from a Veteran Service Organization.

 

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VA Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers education benefits for qualifying dependents and surviving spouses of military members who have died, are missing, or are prisoners of war. Known as the VA Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program, it is also referred to as Chapter 35 benefits and is offered to those who meet VA criteria, which we’ll explore below.

What Benefits Come with VA DEA?

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers qualifying applicants a monthly payment that can help offset the cost of:

  • Undergraduate college degree programs
  • Graduate-level degree programs
  • Career-training certificates
  • Educational and career counseling
  • Apprenticeships
  • On-the-job training

These benefits are available to most who start using them today for up to 36 months. Those who started using VA DEA before August 1, 2018, had 45 months of benefits.

Benefits are paid according to the nature of your attendance; full-time, half-time, etc. The nature of your training or coursework may also determine your pay rates. For example, the full-time monthly rate in October 2021 for “institutional training” was listed at $1,298.00. Three-quarter -time attendance was paid at $1,026.00 in 2021, and half-time attendance was paid at $753.00.

For “Correspondence” training, there is a payment that is calculated at “55 percent of the established charge for the number of lessons completed” paid every quarter.

For apprenticeships and on-the-job training, VA DEA benefits in 2021 were paid out at $825.00 per month for the first six months of training. The second six months were paid monthly at a rate of $620.00, with lower rates paid for the remainder of the training period.

There are certain benefits paid for cooperative training that are not considered “farm cooperative” training. Those rates in 2021 were paid only for full-time training at just under $1300 a month. Farm Coop training was paid at a full-time rate of $908.00 a month.

All of the numbers you see here are listed as examples of past compensation only. Your experience may vary and VA compensation rates are subject to change at any time due to legislation, changes in the program, and other variables.

School Participation

Not all schools participate in VA DEA, and you will need to determine whether it makes sense to enter a program using your DEA benefits or if you should save them and use a state or local program instead. Some states may offer military spouses and dependents a similar set of benefits to DEA–compare them side-by-side to see which may be the best option for that school.

Changes in the law may also work in your favor; if it has been a year or two since you last explored your VA education benefit options, check again. Legislation in the past five to seven years has changed these benefits, significantly in some cases, and the answers you got about your options a few years ago may no longer apply.

Remember, recent legislation has paid more attention to dependents and spouses of military members and it may only be a matter of time before some features (such as who may use a VA education benefit and whether it may be transferred to a spouse or child) are reviewed periodically to see how they may be improved or streamlined.

You can always contact the Department of Veterans Affairs directly at 1-800-827-1000 to learn what your most current education benefits are and how they may have changed since the last time you explored your education options. Checking again could reveal a whole new set of options for you to consider.

Qualifying for the VA DEA Program

Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance benefits are offered to those with a military parent or spouse who meet the any one of the following conditions:

  • The parent or spouse (a veteran or service member) is permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected disability, or
  • They died while on active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability, or
  • They are missing in action or captured/forcibly detained in the line of duty, or
  • They are in the hospital or receiving outpatient treatment for a service-connected permanent and total disability and are likely to be discharged for that disability.

The children of these servicemembers and veterans must meet the following requirements:

  • Must be between the ages of 18 and 26, (except in certain VA-defined circumstances) cases.
  • If the dependent joins the military they may not use this benefit while on active duty.
  • If an eligible dependent leaves the military and wants to use the VA DEA program they cannot have a Dishonorable discharge.
  • Dependents may have their eligibility extended due to military service, but that extension typically won’t last beyond the 31st birthday.

Spouses should know the following VA requirements when applying for VA DEA benefits:

  • DEA benefits start on the date the VA decides you qualify or on the date of the Veteran’s death. They will last for 10 years.
  • If the Veteran is VA-rated as permanently and totally disabled, “with an effective date that’s 3 years after discharge from active duty” a spouse may qualify for benefits for 20 years.
  • If the service member died on active duty, your benefits end “20 years from the date of death” according to the VA.

How to Apply for VA DEA Benefits

There are two basic scenarios you might need to know about when applying for DEA benefits. The first is when you’re looking for a school to attend and you want to apply for those benefits in conjunction with your commitment to a specific school you have not started attending yet.

In such cases, you’ll first need to verify that the school you have selected is approved for VA benefits and actively participates. Not all schools are approved, and not all choose to participate. Once you have determined you can use DEA benefits at your school, apply for VA education benefits for dependents using VA Form 22-5490. You can submit electronically or by regular mail.

The other scenario is that you are already attending classes at a school you want to use DEA benefits. In these cases, you’ll want to get a DEA application to your school or your employer if you are using VA benefits for on-the-job training or similar programs.

You’ll need the school or employer to fill out VA Form 22-1999, VA Enrollment Certification and you will need to have that submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For Those Eligible for DEA Benefits and the Fry Scholarship

The Fry Scholarship is a VA education benefit offered to qualifying applicants. If you had a military spouse or parent who died in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001, or a spouse/parent who was a member of the Selected Reserve who died from a service-connected disability, you may qualify.

In some cases, those who are eligible for DEA benefits may also qualify for the Fry Scholarship. If you are the dependent child of a service member who died in the line of duty before August 1, 2011, you can qualify for both DEA and Fry for a total of 81 months of education benefits. But you cannot use both programs at once. Using the Fry Scholarship you typically get up to 36 months of benefits including:

  • Full in-state tuition costs at public schools or;
  • Up to $22,805 per year for training at private or out-of-state schools
  • Funds for housing
  • Funds for books
  • Funds for supplies

Most are required to choose between Fry and DEA unless you meet the criteria mentioned above. Typically you can use one or the other, but not both. You will be asked to make your choice at application time and it pays to compare both benefits side-by-side to see which may be the better choice for you.

 

 

What You Need to Know About Eligibility for VA Disability Benefits

If you have served in the United States military, you may be eligible for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues, injuries, illness, or related conditions. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a screening and application process for VA benefits you can use to start the claim process. This process is open to those retiring and/or separating, as well as qualifying dependents.

How Do I Know If I Qualify For VA Disability Benefits?

In general, the following must be true; you must have a medical condition that affects your body or mind and you must have served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training. Furthermore, one of the following must apply:

  • Your condition began while serving and can be associated with military service OR;
  • Your condition existed before you served and military service made the condition worse OR;
  • You have a condition related to military service that didn’t appear after you retired or separated.

The VA has a list of “presumed disabilities” that may affect your claims, such as a long illness that appears within a year of leaving the military, medical issues associated with toxic chemicals or hazardous materials, and conditions associated with being a prisoner of war.

The Nature Of Your Military Discharge Counts

VA disability benefits may not be offered to those with military discharges characterized as Dishonorable, Bad Conduct, or Other Than Honorable. The VA recommends approaching a discharge review board to upgrade such discharges.

How To Apply For VA Compensation

Applying for VA disability compensation should be a standard part of your final out-processing, but not all troops are able to get an appointment to do so.

If you are retiring or separating, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs as soon as you know you are doing so, and also be sure to ask your command support staff about scheduling an appointment for this process. Many bases offer group sessions to introduce soon-to-be-veterans to the VA claims process.

You will need to have access to as much of your military medical history as you can remember or review as the VA claims questionnaire can be lengthy and require specific information. Do not be in a hurry when you fill these documents out as this application process is a crucial first step toward getting compensation.

If you are in a forward-deployed, remote, or hardship assignment location these options may be limited so be sure to check with your unit to learn how and where to get started.

Supporting Evidence

When completing the paperwork for VA compensation, the process can seem lengthy and overwhelming. It can be hard to resist the temptation simply to enter information in the fields provided and get the application over with, but it’s a very smart idea to provide as much supporting evidence as you can with your application or supplemental to that application.

This should include statements and medical records from any private, out-of-network, or otherwise non-military care that may be relevant to your claim.

Talk to your care providers and explain what you need and why you need it–you may find the best results with this kind of transparency. You’ll also want to complete VA Form 21-4142, Authorization to Disclose Information to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and VA Form 21-4142a, General Release for Medical Provider Information to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The VA official site advises you to send these completed forms with your claim so that the Department of Veterans Affairs may “…attempt to obtain your records through our Private Medical Records contract. VA Forms 21-4142 and 21-4142a are used in conjunction with each other and both forms must be completed in order to obtain treatment records” according to the VA.

VA Examinations

It’s entirely likely that the VA will require medical exams and other in-person medical reviews in addition to the paperwork, medical records, and supporting documentation you submit. Expect to be examined for any condition you list including PTSD and other mental health issues that may be relevant. A VA medical examination may be required as a condition of getting your VA disability rating; it’s important to make these appointments in order to move your claims forward.

What Conditions May Be Covered

There isn’t enough space here to list all possible medical conditions that could qualify for VA compensation but in general, you may find the following list helpful. VA claims are typically approved for conditions that include one or more of the following:

  • Chronic back pain
  • Breathing problems
  • Severe hearing loss
  • Scar tissue
  • Range of motion issues
  • Ulcers
  • Certain cancers
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

This is not an exhaustive list.

VA Disability Ratings

The VA assigns disability ratings based on a review of your medical records, any supporting evidence you submit, and other data. The rating is given based on the severity of your condition using specific criteria to make those determinations. The rating informs how much you are compensated for the medical issues in question if the VA decides the medical issues are indeed service-connected.

The VA bases your rating on a whole person concept, so if you have multiple conditions you will be compensated up to a 100% disability rating. Some medical issues are capped at a certain percentage, while others may be rated all the way to 100%.

For example, a veteran who is paralyzed may receive a rating up to 80% due to the nature of the paralysis. If there are other conditions that contribute to the disability they may make up the remaining 20% of the 100% disability rating, but the total overall rating cannot exceed 100%.

VA Disability Pay

The VA pays disability compensation based on the percentage of disability. Depending on the percentage of your disability you may be eligible for a with-dependents rate. This begins at 30% disability or higher at press time, with VA compensation for 10% and 20% offering no with-dependents rate.

The percentages are paid at a rate fixed at the start of each year. For example, VA compensation for a person with an overall 20% disability rating would receive just above $300 in 2022. The amount paid may be subject to a Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) depending on the year. To receive VA compensation, it may be necessary to set up a direct deposit account or make arrangements to do so for the best results.

VA Appeals

Not all medical claims are approved during the VA claims process. If you disagree with a decision made by the Department of Veterans Affairs, you do have an appeal process to use to have your case heard.

Re-examination of your case is not guaranteed and you should start the appeals process as early as you can for best results. VA appeals include the ability to check the status of your appeal online at the VA official site; to do so you will need to create an account using your credentials from Login.gov, ID.me, DS Logon, or a My HealtheVet account.

VA appeals should contain any supporting evidence that was not included in the original claim, this can be helpful to demonstrate a condition that is getting worse or one that isn’t deteriorating but isn’t improving, either. You don’t have an unlimited window of opportunity to appeal a VA decision; it’s best to act as quickly as possible to get your claim reviewed.

At any stage of this process, you can get third-party help from a veterans service organization such as the USO, DAV, AMVETS or others who work with veterans to help them obtain their VA benefits. A Veteran Service Officer can work with the VA on your behalf once you give them written permission to do so. You can also get direct assistance from your nearest VA field office or VA medical facility.

 

 

5 Tips for Applying for VA Disability Benefits

There are some important steps to take when you apply for VA disability benefits. Some of them apply situationally, such as what to do if you have to start the application process from an overseas location.

Others are more universal, such as knowing what to do if you lose your DD Form 214, Report of Discharge, or the Guard/Reserve Equivalent.  When you prepare to make a claim with the VA you will need to collect your medical records from both military and civilian care providers and you may also need supporting evidence in the form of “buddy letters” from friends and family.

Here are some important tips that can help you better prepare for the application process and beyond.

5. Applying For VA Disability: Gather Your Medical Records

If you need to apply for VA compensation for a service-connected medical issue, your military medical records are one of the most obvious resources you must gather. But do you know how to access your records?

If you are retiring or separating from the United States military from a stateside location this issue is important, but for those doing so from an overseas military base, there is a greater sense of urgency. Why? Because it will be exponentially harder to obtain your records from an overseas location you cannot personally visit once you have retired or separated.

If you cannot hand-carry your military medical records from an overseas location it may be necessary to make arrangements to have those records submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Some overseas bases or forward-deployed locations may not have the same resources that larger installations do; if your resources are limited, check with your First Sergeant, Command Sergeant Major, Detailer, or command support staff to learn your options in this area.

Equally important? Gathering your non-military medical records for any care you received during your commission or enlistment. Such records may provide supporting documentation you can use to reinforce your claim. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the Department of Veterans Affairs only wants your military medical records. Any supporting evidence can be used toward your claim.

4. Collect More Supporting Evidence

Some also mistakenly believe that medical records are the only documents that can support your claim with the VA. This is NOT true; the Department of Veterans Affairs encourages those filing medical claims to include a variety of information including letters from a care provider that explain your condition and how it has affected your day-to-day life.

And letters from a doctor are not the only ones that you can submit. Have you ever heard of a “buddy letter”? This is something you can request from friends, family, and co-workers. Your buddy letter should include a brief explanation of how long you have known the letter writer, the nature of your relationship, and other relevant information.

But most importantly, the buddy letter should include specific and detailed information about how your medical issue has affected your life, any changes the letter writer has noticed since the injury, illness, or incident, and any other relevant observations along those lines.

Buddy letters help the VA claims reviewer to find a human side to the medical records and other data; never underestimate the power of an emotional testimony in writing to help your cause.

3. Safeguard Your Records

More people lose their official documents (including discharge paperwork) than you might think. One of the biggest causes? Your last permanent change of station move out of your final assignment and to your home of record or elsewhere.

It’s very easy to misplace the single-page Report of Discharge (DD Form 214 for active-duty servicemembers) and if you cannot locate this crucial paperwork, you’ll have to apply to get a replacement. At one time it was necessary to apply for this via the National Archives, a process that can take months. If you are trying to make a deadline or get your claim reviewed in a timely manner, that delay could be a complicating factor.

Today, servicemembers have the option of requesting a replacement Report of Discharge online via MilConnect. This is an option for those who have a Premium DSLogon account. You can learn more about setting up such an account at the VA official site.

To protect your military records it is a smart idea to digitally scan your DD Form 214 and save it online or on your device, then print out for use when submitting your claim.

2. Refresh Your Memory

Part of the claims process with the Department of Veterans Affairs is listing out all the medical issues you want to claim in as much detail as possible. It is typically not an effective approach to simply walk into that process and try to do it all from memory. It helps to list out the conditions you want to claim in advance and then have a good look at your medical records to make certain you have not forgotten anything.

A head injury you had ten years ago might not be as fresh in your mind as a more recent illness or injury. Review your records and don’t forget to include a review of any supporting evidence such as the records from a civilian care provider.

When it comes to a medical claim, no detail is too small. You never know what may or may not be relevant to the claims reviewer, so it’s best to include any information about the condition you’ve experienced no matter how trivial it might seem.

1. Know The Process

By this, we mean understanding how the VA assigns disability ratings for various conditions. For example, did you know some medical conditions reviewed during the VA claims process have a cap or limit on the percentage of disability assigned? For example, if you have tinnitus and the VA awards you a disability claim for that condition, your rating will typically be limited to 10% no matter how severe the condition is.

Compare that to the VA rating for amputation of an entire arm, which may be awarded up to 100%. The loss of a single hand could be rated as high as 70% but not 100%. Amputation is rated differently than “loss of use”.

These nuances are good to know when considering your VA medical claims application. It’s also a good idea to learn what the VA will approve from your claim and make plans from there. It’s a bad idea to start counting your potential disability benefits pay too early–don’t count on that as income until you have been awarded a disability percentage from the VA on a formal basis.

The claims review process takes time, and some who apply may feel they are up against an external deadline, such as when buying a home with your VA loan benefits. If you have a VA disability rating, you may be exempt from paying the VA Loan Funding Fee, which can run into the thousands of dollars.

But those who await a VA decision on their claim can’t use that exemption until it is an official part of their military records. It’s a bad idea to pin hopes that a VA claim will be approved soon enough to beat a deadline for a loan for that exemption. Chances are good the process will take longer than you realize. The good news in this particular situation is that you can apply for a refund for the VA loan funding fee once your VA claim has been approved.

 

 

TRICARE and Non-Covered Services

What to know about TRICARE and non-covered services.

TRICARE most likely covers most of what you need to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, to help you get well after an illness, or to help you heal after an injury. However, there are services they don’t cover. This can complicate things, especially if the service is something you think you need to have. Here is a little bit about what you need to know about TRICARE and non-covered services. 

What are the TRICARE exclusions?

TRICARE usually excludes services and supplies that they do not think are medically or psychologically necessary to treat or diagnose a covered illness, injury, pregnancy, or well-child care. Keep in mind that all services and supplies that are related to a non-covered condition or treatment, or provided by an unauthorized provider are excluded. According to TRICARE, these are their current exclusions:

  • Acupuncture
  • Alterations to Living Space
  • Alternative Treatments
  • Assisted Living Facility Care
  • Augmentation Mammoplasty
  • Autopsy Services
  • Aversion Therapy
  • Blood Pressure Monitoring Devices
  • Camps
  • Charges for Missed Appointments
  • Computerized Dynamic Posturography (CDP)
  • Cosmetic Drugs
  • Domiciliary Care
  • Dry Needling
  • Dynamic Posturography
  • Dyslexia Treatment
  • Elective Psychotherapy and Mind Expansion Psychotherapy
  • Elective Services or Supplies
  • Elevators or Chair Lifts
  • Exercise Equipment
  • Exercise Programs
  • Experimental Procedures
  • Fluoride Preparations
  • Gym Membership
  • Homeopathic and Herbal Drugs
  • Hospitalization for Medical or Surgical Error
  • LASIK Surgery
  • Learning Disorders
  • Long Term Care
  • Massage
  • Medical Care from a Family Member
  • Mental Health Exclusions
  • Multivitamins and Megavitamins
  • Mycotoxin Testing or Toxic Mold Testing
  • Naturopathic Care
  • Neurofeedback
  • Nursing Homes
  • Orthoptics
  • Paternity Test
  • Personal Items
  • Postpartum Stay without a Medical Reason
  • Private Hospital Rooms
  • Psychiatric Treatment for Sexual Dysfunction
  • Psychogenic Surgery
  • Retirement Homes
  • Safety Medical Supplies
  • Sensory Integration Therapy
  • Sexual Dysfunction or Inadequacy Treatment
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
  • Therapeutic Absences from Inpatient Facility
  • Uncovered Services and Supplies
  • Unnecessary Diagnostic Tests
  • Unnecessary Inpatient Stays
  • Unproven Procedures
  • Vestibular Rehabilitation
  • Vision Therapy
  • Vitamin D Screening

Can you still use non-covered services?

Technically you can, but you would have to pay out of pocket for them. Depending on what the service is, that might not be an option.

Can you get a waiver for non-covered services?

Yes, you can. The waiver is a written agreement between you, your provider, and your TRICARE contractor, Humana Military. You will need to request the waiver before you get the treatment. You can download a TRICARE Covered Services Waiver. If you give the waiver to your provider to fill out and they do not complete the waiver and file it before performing the service, then you are not responsible for the costs of the non-covered service.

The only time your network provider should bill you for excluded or excludable services is if you fail to inform your provider that you are a TRICARE beneficiary, or if your provider informs you that the service isn’t covered and you agree in advance and in writing to pay for the services.

A network or non-network provider that isn’t following the rules could be committing fraud, so make sure you understand what is covered and what isn’t. The good thing to remember is that things can change in the future, and it is possible that something that isn’t covered right now could be covered by TRICARE in the future. 

 

Can I Get VA Compensation For PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a mental health issue that can be diagnosed and rated by the VA as a service-connected disability. If you are about to retire or separate from military service and suspect you may have a PTSD claim, it’s good to know how the VA reviews and rates this condition for compensation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs defines PTSD as “a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”

Naturally, military service puts people in danger of experiencing traumatic events; a Time Magazine article from as far back as 2015 estimated some 500 thousand U.S. troops who served in wars in the decade or so prior have been diagnosed with PTSD. This condition may not develop immediately following the trauma; those who notice symptoms later should still seek help.

How the VA Describes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The VA definition of PTSD seems to focus on the “life-threatening” part of the traumatic experiences thought to cause the condition, but the American Psychological Association takes a broader view, identifying “traumatic events” and not just “life-threatening” ones as potential causes of PTSD.

This difference in definition may inspire some to seek civilian review of their condition for a second opinion or to gather more supporting documentation to submit to the VA. Adding more evidence to a VA claim is always a good idea.

PTSD was commonly misidentified as “shell shock”, cowardice, or labeled as any number of mental disorders that share symptoms in common with PTSD.

Those who suffer from PTSD may relive the traumatic event, they may have strong feelings about things that remind them of the trauma, and suffer from anxiety they did not have before the event. While intrusive thoughts and other symptoms are common side effects of a traumatic experience, when they persist for more than a few months PTSD could be the reason.

If You Are a Veteran or Servicemember Suffering Due to PTSD

We’ll examine some important issues about VA compensation for PTSD below, but if you are a veteran and are having a crisis you think may be related to your condition, don’t wait for your VA appointments to seek help. You can call the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press the number 1. You can also send a text message to 838255.

Again, it’s extremely important to seek help immediately if you are having a personal crisis, even if you aren’t sure it’s associated with PTSD. Your VA claims appointments are very important, but you should never delay care when it’s needed in favor of waiting for the appointment.

Can I Get VA Compensation for PTSD?

VA compensation for mental health issues, including PTSD, is possible but you are required to go through a similar review process as for any other type of VA-rated disability claim. To start this process you will need to submit to the VA:

  • The type of claim you’re making (a specific mental health condition)
  • Symptoms of the condition
  • Military medical records
  • Any applicable non-military medical or mental health care records

It helps to gather other supporting documentation such as “buddy letters” from friends, family, or coworkers describing you before, during, and after any observable symptoms. A letter from a counselor or therapist noting the same could also make an important difference in handling your claim.

How does the VA determine your condition and whether it is PTSD or not? The VA uses the DSM-5, an industry-standard guide to assigning “appropriate evaluations using the Mental

Disorder Criteria in the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities” according to the VA official site.

Do I Need a VA Mental Health Exam to Apply for Compensation?

The VA does not typically require a performed-by-VA mental health exam for every single mental health-related claim, and VA regulations state that a VA-directed mental health exam is ordered only under certain situations which may include:

  • When the VA needs to assign a “pre-stabilization” rating;
  • When “the evidence of record” shows potential for the condition to improve
  • When “sound medical evidence” is needed

The VA official site says with the exceptions of the list above, no “future exams” are permitted. But what happens when a mental health exam IS required, such as in cases where the VA needs to determine the future of your benefits?

Attending a VA Mental Health Exam

Some might be tempted to skip the mental health examination when required, but the Department of Veterans Affairs is firm about the need for this process. In the absence of the required exam, the VA will review the evidence currently in your records to decide which of the following applies to your case:

  • Continue payment for the disability that was to be reviewed during the VA exam IF there is “no change in the severity of your disability(ies)” as supported by your records OR;
  • Discontinue payment for the disability(ies) for which the examination was scheduled, OR;
  • Reduce payment for the disability(ies) for which the examination was scheduled to the minimum evaluation established by law.

When you attend a VA claim exam for any issue, PTSD-related or otherwise, the examiner is only responsible for performing the review and does NOT assign a VA rating for the condition.

The reviewer is not responsible for the final determination of your claim, and only a representative from a VA Regional Office can answer questions about the ratings in your case. Don’t expect the claim reviewer to be able to share anything about the rating process at the time of your exam.

Caveats From the Department of Veterans Affairs

While the VA does accept claims for mental health issues, it advises veterans to take care to claim the right condition as many symptoms for certain conditions including PTSD may appear in other mental health issues, too. The VA advises that it only awards disability ratings for one mental health condition. It does so after having reviewed your claim, the medical evidence submitted, as well as any information about how your condition has affected your social interactions and career.

You should also know that your claim may be reevaluated if there is evidence or an error in the original diagnosis or if there are signs that your condition is improving. You could receive a change in diagnosis under the following circumstances:

  • A progression in the mental health condition “resulting in the additional symptomatology better fitting the criteria of a different mental health condition diagnosis” OR;
  • The evidence requires a correction of an error in the prior diagnosis, OR;
  • There are signs of a new and separate mental health condition

Under the current system, the VA only permits one diagnosis for a mental health condition, which means “any change in diagnosis” should, for VA claims purposes, reflect “the most accurate diagnosis and symptomatology” according to the VA official site.

You should submit all claims for mental and physical issues related to your military service as soon as possible once you have decided to retire or separate. Mental health conditions may not be as easy to review and diagnose as some physical ailments; gather any appropriate supporting documentation as soon as you can and submit everything within the VA deadlines–you may be able to start submitting within 180 days of retiring or separating.

Not all VA claims are approved; some are denied and in such cases, you have the right to appeal the VA decision. You may be able to file a supplemental claim if there is new evidence to support your claim, and you could request that a senior reviewer take a look at your case. You’ll need to contact the VA directly the learn what it takes to file such appeals, and you may be able to get VA assistance locating certain medical records if you need help to support your case.

 

The Warrior Care Releases Innovative Electronic Caregiver Resource Directory

Check out the new The Warrior Care Releases Innovative Electronic Caregiver Resource Directory tool!

The Defense Health Agency’s Warrior Care Military Caregiver Support Program has partnered with the National Resource Directory and released the electronic Caregiver Resource Directory (e-CRD). The e-CRD is an innovative digital version of the Caregiver Resource Directory that military caregivers, as well as those who support caregivers, have used over the years to find resources that are specific to their needs and expand awareness through all the stages of the caregiver journey.

The e-CRD will now be a live document. This is great news because that means that whenever you pull it up, the information will be updated. Until this release, the resource directory came out yearly so some of the information could have been outdated by the time you were able to pull it up.

The live document is also searchable. Information can be saved as a PDF and printed out for easier reading or access. You can either print the information out in its entirety or just the pages you need. You can access e-CRD anywhere using a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

The e-CRD has a variety of resources including these topics:

  • Food Insecurity
  • Benefits
  • Financial and Legal Assistance
  • Resiliency and Self-Care
  • Respite Care
  • Pet and Animal Assistance
  • Children’s Needs
  • Mental Health
  • Education and Training
  • Rest and Relaxation
  • Women Veterans

You can find 2,000+ resources available. Basically any topic you think you might need to help your service member or yourself is in the directory.

When you open up the e-CRD, you can easily see a table of contents and find the category you are looking for. From there, you can see the list of resources that are available. For example, if you are looking for “caregiver” resources, you will find many local resources, as well as websites such as afterdeployment.org, or organizations such as the CaregiverList.

You can view the e-CRD on the website.

The Warrior Care Recover Coordination Program’s mission is to proactively support wounded, ill, and injured service members during their recovery as well as their reintegration and transition into civilian life. Beyond the service member, they also want to support their family members and caregivers. You can find out more about them on their website.

 

 

 

PACT Act Agreement in Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee

On May 18, members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) announced an agreement on the PACT Act of 2022, legislation that would deliver health care and benefits to all Veterans exposed to toxic environments.

The PACT Act

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 marks the first time in US history that such comprehensive health care legislation has moved forward.

“This bipartisan legislation is the most comprehensive toxic exposure package the Senate has ever delivered to veterans in this country’s history,” said Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Jon Tester (D-Montana) in a joint statement.

“For far too long, our nation’s veterans have been living with chronic illnesses as a result of exposures during their time in uniform. Today, we’re taking necessary steps to right this wrong with our proposal that’ll provide veterans and their families with the health care and benefits they have earned and deserve.”

According to the infographic from the SVAC, the PACT Act will deliver the following benefits to Veterans:

  • Expansion of access to VA health care for toxic-exposed Veterans
  • Expansion of the period of health care enhanced eligibility for Post-9/11 combat veterans
  • Expands health care to more than 3.5 million veterans
  • Adds 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s presumption list
  • Creates a framework for the establishment of future toxic exposure-related presumptions of service connection
  • Provides toxic exposure screening to all generations of veterans at VA medical appointments
  • Bolsters toxic exposure-related education and training for VA health care and benefits personnel
  • Establishes 31 new VA health care facilities in 19 states

VSO Support for the PACT Act

This announcement comes after months of staunch advocacy for the legislation from Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) like the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA).

Today’s announcement from Senators Tester and Moran is a strong show of good faith to the veteran community,” announced Matthew Mihelcic, the VFW National Commander. “I applaud them on their work on the bill and I am encouraged to see both Democrats and Republicans coming together to make good on a promise to care for our veterans, service members, and their families, dealing with the costs of war.”

The American Legion National Commander, Paul Dillard, said in a statement that, “The Honoring Our PACT Act would deliver needed benefits for up to 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to the poisons of war due to the prevalence of burn pits, radiation, contaminated water, Agent Orange and other toxicants during deployments and military assignments…I am asking all Americans to tell their senators to vote for the Honoring Our PACT Act.”

Next Steps

The PACT Act hasn’t passed yet, as the agreement was made between the ranking members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. From here, the legislation will come to the Senate floor for a vote. If approved, it will move to the President’s desk for approval after a final review by the House of Representatives.

While there is no set timeline yet, many are hopeful that the PACT Act will become law before summer is in full swing.

Stay tuned for updates!

 

 

Low-Cost Internet for Veterans: Affordable Connectivity Program

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offers Veterans low-cost internet access through their Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). This program aims to deliver fast, reliable internet service to veterans who are struggling financially.

The Affordable Connectivity Program

The FCC’s program grants a discount of up to $30/month for broadband service. Additionally, there is a special discount for households on qualifying Tribal lands of up to $75 per month for use towards paying for broadband internet.

The Affordable Connectivity Program grants a one-time discount of up to $100 to qualifying households for the purchase of a laptop, desktop computer, or a tablet. These devices must be purchased through participating providers.

Furthermore, the FCC’s program has partnered with 20 leading internet service providers who will offer ACP participants high-speed internet plans for $30 per month or less. This means that some households may be able to get broadband internet for free.

Affordable Connectivity Program Eligibility

By some estimates, there are about 2.5 million Veterans eligible to participate in the ACP. To participate, a household must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Has an income that is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines
  • Participates in certain assistance programs, such as,
    • Veterans pension
    • Survivor benefit
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    • Medicaid
    • Federal Public Housing Assistance
    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
    • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
    • Lifeline
  • Participates in Tribal specific programs, such as,
    • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
    • Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
    • Food distribution programs on Indian Reservations
  • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, which includes participation through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband carrier’s existing low-income program

To check or verify your household’s eligibility, head over to the ACP Benefit page to submit an application. You can also go to the White House’s Get Internet website and sign up for the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

To find participating internet service providers near you, check out the Affordable Connectivity Program Providers page. You can search by state or territory, and you can see which providers offer that $100 discount on connected devices.

VA Programs Keeping Veterans Connected

In addition to the FCC ACP benefit, the VA also has a number of programs that allow Veterans to connect to the internet. Some prominent programs are:

  • VA Internet-Connected Devices: The VA has a program that lends an internet connected tablet to veterans who don’t have access to the internet. The intent is to facilitate access to VA Telehealth appointments.
  • VA Telehealth Connectivity Support: a program where mobile carriers help Veterans avoid data charges when using VA Video Connect on their networks.
  • ATLAS: The Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations (ATLAS) is a pilot program that provides telehealth access in the Veterans’ communities. Using private spaces equipped with internet access, Veterans can attend their telehealth appointments without needing their own device or traveling to a VA clinic.
  • VA Telehealth is a program that allows veterans to access their healthcare team whenever it is necessary.

VA’s Digital Divide Consult

To discover your connectivity options, the VA recommends participating in a Digital Divide Consult. With this program, a VA social worker can assist in determining which programs you may be eligible for, like the Affordable Connectivity Program. The goal of these consultations is to give every veteran the internet and technology they need for using the VA telehealth program.

Connected Veterans

If you or a Veteran you know does not have reliable access to the internet, then please take advantage of these connectivity programs.

Not only are they low or no-cost programs, but the whole purpose behind them is to connect Veterans to the healthcare they’ve earned through their service. Save money and get connected today!

 

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What You Should Know About Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA)

Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) for when you PCS OCONUS

If you have orders to PCS to an OCONUS location, you may be wondering about what types of entitlements you will receive. OCONUS includes any overseas location as well as Alaska and Hawaii. One of the most common OCONUS entitlements is TLA or Temporary Lodging Allowance.

What is TLA?

TLA is money you will receive as a reimbursement to partially offset temporary lodging expenses at overseas duty locations. TLA is for when a service member and their family are waiting for their housing after they arrive OCONUS or when they are awaiting their departure after leaving their quarters. You also must be actively looking for housing once you arrive at your PDS (Permanent Duty Station).

Who is TLA for?

TLA is only for service members and their command sponsored dependents moving to or from an OCONUS location. TLE or Temporary Lodging Expense is for CONUS moves. You will not receive TLA for your dependents if they are not command sponsored.

What is TLA Special?

TLA Special can be authorized under special or unusual circumstances where the costs might be higher than usual at that certain location.

How do they calculate your TLA?

They do this based on Per Diem and your Family Composition. Per Diem is a daily rate that is based on your location. It is to partially reimburse lodging, meals, and incidental expenses. Family Compensation takes the service member’s number of dependents into account as well as their ages. Certain percentages are applied to the TLA calculation based on the family. You can see a few examples on the Defense Travel website.

Can you use TLA for leave?

Yes, TLA is payable on leave if it is spent at the PCS location looking for housing.

Can you ever get an extension on TLA?

There could be reasons why you would be approved for a TLA extension. The normal amount of authorized days is 60. Beyond that, you would need to apply for an extension. Some examples would be non-arrival of your Household Goods (HHG), delay in availability of government quarters because of service requirements, fire, flood, earthquake, or other acts of God that make it temporarily or permanently unavailable to find housing, a withdrawal of housing from the market by a landlord, or a hospitalization.

What else do I need to know about TLA?

  • The lodging position of the TLA can’t go over the actual cost of the lodging that the service member and family paid.
  • The TLA Special Rate needs to be requested before the TLA dates.
  • TLA will start upon arrival at your OCONUS duty station.
  • When it comes to departure, you can be authorized for up to 10 days. That can be extended for things such as transportation delays, hospitalization, or movement of household goods.
  • Advanced payment of TLA can be authorized.
  • International Transaction Fees or currency conversion fees that are changed by the Government Travel Charge Card can be reimbursed, however, those on a personal credit card can not.

 

Tips for PCSing During the Most Expensive PCS Season Ever

Tips to Save Money During Your Upcoming PCS

As everyone knows, everything seems to be more expensive these days. Gas prices are enough to make us faint at the pump, and everything seems more expensive than it used to be. When you are preparing for a move, all of that can make you cringe. But, there are things you can do to save some money during your PCS. Here are a few ideas.

Temporary Lodging

You might have to wait a bit to get into housing when you PCS to a new location. Staying in a hotel can be frustrating and the costs can add up. Why not look into getting an Airbnb or VRBO that is less than your BAH? This will also give you more flexibility in looking for a home and you won’t have to feel like you have to take the first place that is offered to you if it isn’t a good fit.

READ: What You Should Know About Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA)

Don’t Go Crazy With Food

Ideally, your temporary lodging would have a kitchen. This will allow you to grocery shop and make food there instead of eating out at every meal. All of that adds up, especially with a large family. You also want to make sure that if you are moving back to the United States after time overseas you don’t go crazy with all the restaurants you had missed when you were overseas. If you are driving across the country as a part of your PCS, try packing sandwiches and plenty of snacks instead of buying food at restaurants along the way.

READ: Restaurant with Military Discounts and Veteran Deals

Make a Budget

Make a PCS budget. Figure out how much you will spend ahead of time and stick to the plan. You will want to budget for extra expenses that might come up along the way. Having a budget will allow you to stay organized and not overspend when possible.

READ: Best PCS Tips For Military Families and PCS and Moving Discounts for Military

Use a Lending Closet

If your new duty station has a lending closet, use that while you are waiting for your household goods. That way you don’t have to spend money on items that will be coming when you get your household goods. You can just return them to the lending closet.

Don’t Go Over Your Weight Allowance

Every military family has a weight allowance for their move. This is based on the service member’s rank and if they have dependents or not. Get rid of or sell what you can before you move. If you go over your weight limit, you will have to pay. You don’t want to have to deal with that extra expense.

Know Your PCS Entitlements and Benefits

You should be aware of your PCS entitlements and benefits. You can be reimbursed for expenses such as meals, incidentals, and lodging. This doesn’t mean you should go wild and not think about the costs. Keep to your budget but be aware of what you are entitled to during your PCS.

Visit Family

A PCS might be a good time to visit family. You can combine a trip home during your PCS, saving you money in the long run. You might also want to stay with your family to save money while waiting on housing. The service member may still need to report for duty, but paying for one person vs a whole family can save you money.

Save Money

Start saving for your PCS as soon as you can. The move is going to cost you more than you think it might so you want to make sure you are prepared.

Save On Gas

While the cost of gas may be higher than you have ever seen it, there are a few things you can do to keep the costs low during your PCS. Join a fuel rewards program, use apps such as GasBuddy and Waze to find the cheapest gas along the way, and plan your route so you won’t be doing any unnecessary driving.

READ: Pilot Truck Stop Military and Veteran Discount

While financially this may seem like a tough time to PCS, using these tips will help keep the costs a little lower.

 

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VA: Rare Cancers Added to Disability List

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) added nine respiratory cancers to a list of presumptive conditions leading to service-connected disabilities. These cancers are rare and would likely stem from toxic military exposures like burn pits.

The 9 Rare Cancers

The following respiratory cancers have been added to the VA’s list of presumptive conditions:

  1. Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea
  3. Adenocarcinoma of the trachea
  4. Salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea
  5. Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung
  6. Large cell carcinoma of the lung
  7. Salivary gland type tumors of the lung
  8. Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung
  9. Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung

After reviewing scientific and medical evidence, the VA determined that there was a plausible connection between the airborne hazards faced by our troops and the development of these cancers in the respiratory system.

This is a relief to veterans who were asked to “prove” the cancer they had came from their military service. Especially those deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 20 years.

“Last year we made promises to fundamentally change and improve how we establish and expedite presumptions,” declared VA Secretary McDonough in a press release. “We are taking a new approach to presumptives that takes all available science into account, with one goal in mind – getting today’s Veterans – and Vets in the decades ahead – the benefits they deserve as fast as possible.”

SEE ALSO: VA Extends Deadline for Gulf War Veterans’ Disability Claims

What Happens Next?

Effective immediately, the VA will process disability compensation claims for Veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations from August 2, 1990 to the present day. The VA will also process claims for any Veterans who served in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, or Djibouti from September 19, 2001 to the present day.

Furthermore, any Veteran who has or has had any of the listed respiratory cancers during or after their military service are probably eligible for disability compensation benefits. The VA is supposed to reach out to those Veterans who have any of these conditions in their medical record.

Filing Claims

First, any Veterans, survivors, or dependents whose disability claims were previously denied for any of these respiratory cancers, the VA encourages you to file a supplemental claim to obtain those benefits.

Next, for Veterans, survivors, or dependents applying for disability claims against these presumptive cancers, you should file a new claim.

For more information, read the final ruling of the Presumptive Service Connection for Rare Respiratory Cancers Due to Exposure of Fine Particulate Matter.

 

 

 

Make The Connection: Promoting Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is a perfect time to talk about an initiative from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) called Make the Connection.

Make The Connection: A Mental Health Resource

The VA has collected stories from veterans who explain the challenges they’ve faced during and after their military service. These veteran stories are presented in videos, written articles, and even podcast episodes. The purpose is to connect with veterans who are also struggling in life and to offer hope and support to overcome the many challenges faced by our military community.

Make the Connection offers more than 800 videos from veterans, military spouses, and caregivers who have been where you are. In the video gallery, you can search for stores based on the era of your service, the branch of service, gender, and even combat experience.

This approach enables veterans to find stories of hope from other veterans just like them. For example, a Vietnam War Veteran can find stories from other Vietnam vets. It even allows for a female veteran to find hope in the stories of other female veterans.

Stories for Life Events & Experiences

Using Make the Connection as a springboard, veterans and family members can find support for various life events and experiences that may be causing stress in their lives. These can include:

Stories Based on Signs & Symptoms

Make the Connection can also display their stories and content based on observable symptoms. This approach allows the military community to find targeted help and encouragement based on specific behaviors or conditions. These signs and symptoms include:

Condition-Based Stories

If you are a veteran, family member, or caregiver, it is likely that you’ve encountered some conditional struggles brought about by military service. Make the Connection offers targeted support for some of those challenges:

RELATED: Mental Health & Resilience Resources for Veterans

Mental Health Treatment, Self Help, & Self Assessments

Treatment

Make the Connection has consolidated a ton of resources to help the military members connect with the help they need to live happier lives. Check out their What Is Treatment? article to support services and therapies offered by the VA’s mental health professionals.That article also has a search function that allows you to find local support based on your ZIP code.

Self Help

Make the Connection also provides Self-Help Strategies that can have an immediate impact on you during times of stress or symptoms. These can include information about coping behaviors and guidance for handling challenging situations.

Assess Yourself

The VA’s Make the Connection also hosts links to various self-assessment tools that help you determine if your behaviors and feelings are related to treatable conditions. They currently offer the following self-assessments:

Additional Mental Health Resources

VA Self Help Tools allows Veterans to access courses online that offer instruction in areas like parenting, anger management, sleep issues, stress management, and problem solving skills.

Coaching Into Care is the VA’s national telephone service designed to educate and support family members who are seeking care or services on behalf of a Veteran.

Finally, the Veterans Crisis Line is a direct connection to qualified responders within the Department of Veterans Affairs who are available 24/7/365 to provide confidential crisis support for Veterans and their families. You do NOT have to be enrolled in the VA healthcare or benefits systems to use this crucial resource. To get started:

  • Just call 1.800.273.8255 and press 1
  • Or, dial 988 and press 1 (newer number)
  • Chat online
  • Send a text to 838255 to connect via text messages

Conclusion

Serving in the military is a rewarding and life-altering experience. However, it does have a dark side that many don’t know about or understand. The weight carried by our service members, and by extension our military families, is a tremendous burden that they carry with pride.

Moreover, the scars and wounds of battle are not merely external, but internal as well. This has damaging effects on the mental health of our nation’s heroes. On average, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. This is a national travesty.

For this May, and every month beyond, please do not hesitate to reach out when you need help. There are so many resources available, like the VA’s Make the Connection, that will help you and your family overcome the struggles of military life.

 

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Little Known Benefits of VGLI

Things You May Not Know About VGLI

Most transitioning service members are aware that they can apply for Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) after they separate or retire. But what many don’t know is, they can convert their VGLI policy to a commercial policy at any time.

Veterans Group Life Insurance

The Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) policy allows transitioning military members to keep their current level of life insurance coverage as long as they continue to pay the premiums.

Generally speaking, you must have had the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) while on active duty and you’ve separated within the past 1 year and 120 days, roughly 16 months. There are, of course, other requirements for separating Reserve and National Guard members.

One of the greatest benefits of the VGLI policy is that Veterans who apply within 240 days of discharge or separation can get the VGLI without providing proof that they’re in good health. This is huge since many of us that leave the service have been broken in various ways.

VGLI vs. Commercial Whole Life Insurance

Consequently, Veterans can convert their VGLI policies into a commercial, or civilian, insurance policy at any time. The conversion will take place at standard premium rates and no proof of good health is required. If you’ve never applied to a civilian insurance provider, they are uber-picky about health issues.

Just to test this out, I recently applied for a $50,000 term-life insurance policy through Bestow. The company’s website says, “No medical exam ever”, which seemed promising. I answered the questions honestly, listing any conditions that are on my official VA record. Just a few minutes after submitting my application, I received notice that I had not been approved for term life insurance coverage through Bestow.

Most service members do not realize how easy it is to get life insurance while they serve. Nor do they understand how easy it is to snag a VGLI policy after separation. While I admit there are likely better policies out there, nothing can compare to the seamless coverage options that require no medical exam or proof of health condition. This is the most unknown aspect of having a VGLI policy and it can be a game changer. Here’s why.

Most whole life insurance policies accumulate a cash value that grows over the life of the policy. They pay death benefits at the designated amount, just like VGLI, but the VGLI does not have a cash value at all.

Another benefit of whole life insurance is that the premiums remain stable throughout the life of the policy, even if they start out a little higher than those of VGLI. However, another overlooked aspect of VGLI is that the premiums skyrocket as the veteran gets older.

VGLI Rates Increase Over Time

For example, when I retired from the Army, I paid $48 for $400,000 in term VGLI coverage. That’s not bad, but about double the SGLI rate. Now, my premiums are $64 per month for the same coverage. Still, that’s only a $20 jump and it was easily absorbed by budgeting.

However, when I turn 55, the premium rate will be $240. And at 65, the premium is an insane $588 each month. That’s wild, but it is typical of term life insurance policies.

Just for good measure, and because you’re probably interested, if I still have a VGLI policy when I’m 75 years old, the premium will be a whopping $1,712 per month. I’m not good at predicting the future, but I’m fairly certain that premium will be more than I can afford.

It’s All About Mindset

While the ever-increasing premiums of term-life insurance like VGLI are staggering, how you look at the coverage makes all the difference.

Younger policy holders tend to have increased financial obligations than do older ones.

For example, my policy is $400,000 because I have a bunch of kids and a mortgage that need support in the case of my untimely demise. As I get older, my kids will move out (hopefully) and my mortgage will eventually be paid off, which means that I could lower my VGLI coverage as my financial obligations are less than before. Lower coverage equals lower premiums.

Now, if I wanted to keep the $400,000 coverage even after paying off my house and kicking my adult kids out, then I might consider converting my VGLI policy into a commercial whole life policy. I’d do that to keep the most coverage I can with a steady premium that I could afford even after I stop working. But again, it’s all about your insurance plans.

Converting VGLI to Whole Life

If you choose to convert your VGLI policy, there are some things you should know. First, the policy you choose must be a permanent one, like a whole life policy. Second, you’re not allowed to convert your VGLI to another term life insurance policy. Nor are you allowed to switch it to a variable life or a universal life insurance policy.

Steps to VGLI Conversion

The first step in converting your VGLI into a commercial policy is to choose a new insurance company. There is a small list of participating companies for you to reference.

Once you’ve chosen a provider, the next step is to contact their sales office and let them know you’d like to convert a current VGLI policy to one of their permanent life insurance policies.

Finally, in order to complete the conversion, you will need to get a letter from the Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (OSGLI) confirming your VGLI coverage. This letter is often called a VGLI Conversion Notice, and you’ll provide that letter to the insurance agent at the new company.

To obtain a VGLI Conversion Notice, you can contact OSGLI by emailing them at osgli.osgli@prudential.com (yes, write “osgli” twice). You can also call OSGLI at 800.419.1473, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday thru Friday.

Disclosure & Conclusion

I am not a licensed insurance agent or financial professional. I am, however, a veteran who had SGLI on active duty, and who is a current VGLI policy holder since retirement.

Should you have questions regarding your current policy, please contact your policy holder or insurance agent. If you need help deciding which insurance coverage is right for you, I encourage you to seek counsel from a licensed financial professional.

With that out of the way, only you can decide whether or not to keep your VGLI coverage or to convert it to a whole life policy. I still hold my VGLI coverage because I’m young(ish) and my wife is serving on active duty. The premiums are affordable, and I like having the coverage to support her and our kids if anything happens to me.

However, I can tell you that I’m not going to have that policy when I’m 75 years old! Whenever I convert my VGLI policy, it will be after consulting with a financial advisor and my spouse. Always make the most informed decision that matches your financial goals.

 

For more info, please go here.

 

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PTSD Resources and VA Benefits

What Benefits Does the VA Provide For Those with PTSD?

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is well known within the military community. According to the National Center for PTSD, 11-20 out of 100 veterans who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in any given year. The rate is 12% for those who served in the Gulf War, and 30% of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD during their lifetime. MST or Military Sexual Trauma is another cause of PTSD within the military. PTSD can also occur in children and teens.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD is a serious mental health condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD symptoms include:

  • Intrusive memories, such as flashbacks and upsetting dreams.
  • Avoidance, such as trying to avoid talking or thinking about the event.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood, such as hopelessness about the future.
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions, such as being easily startled or having trouble sleeping.

What services does the VA provide for those with PTSD?

The VA has over 200 PTSD treatment programs. They offer:

  • 1-to-1 mental health assessment and testing to figure out if you have PTSD.
  • Medicine that is proven to work for treating PTSD.
  • 1-to-1 psychotherapy or also called talk therapy. This would include proven methods like CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy).
  • 1-to-1 family therapy.
  • Group therapy for special needs, like anger or stress management, or combat support
  • Group therapy for veterans who served in certain combat zones or those who have been through similar traumas.
  • PTSD specialists that provide regular outpatient care to veterans with PTSD in each VA medical center across the U.S.
  • Special residential or inpatient care programs found in each region of the U.S. that can help veterans with severe PTSD symptoms who have trouble doing normal daily activities.
  • Providers that offer added PTSD care in some of the large community-based outpatient clinics.

How do you access PTSD treatment through the VA?

After you have applied for VA health services, if you have a VA primary care provider, you should start by talking to them about your concerns. They can help you figure out if you do in fact have PTSD, as well as help you find treatment and support. If you don’t have a VA primary care provider or have never been seen in a VA hospital, you can call the information hotline at 800-827-1000 or contact your local VA medical center, or contact a VA PTSD program near you.

If you don’t have VA health benefits, you might still possibly be able to get the care that you need. Those who have served in a combat zone can get free private counseling, alcohol and drug assessment, and other support at a community Vet Center. There are 300 of them.

They also have contact information for those who are homeless or those who are at risk of being homeless.

Can you receive disability compensation or other benefits if you have PTSD linked to your military service?

Yes, if you have symptoms of PTSD and suffered a serious injury, personal trauma, sexual trauma, or were threatened with injury, sexual assault, or death while serving in the military, you may qualify. You can find out more information on the VA disability compensation for PTSD page.

PTSD Resources: where else can you go to get help with PTSD?

As a veteran, if you do suspect you have PTSD, you should start the process of seeking help. There are resources out there to help you find treatment and support you as you try to heal.

 

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The Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grants

These Grants Will Be for Suicide Prevention Services

On April 15th, the VA published a Notice of Funding Opportunity for $51,750,000 in suicide prevention grants. These grants will be awarded to organizations that provide or coordinate suicide prevention services for veterans at risk of suicide and the families of those veterans.

Helping those at risk for suicide is so important within the veteran community. These grants will go to help the veterans who are struggling and will make a difference to those who are in need of this type of support as well as their families. This will make for a stronger veteran and military community.

“Communities are important partners in our work to end Veteran suicide,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “The Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program will fund programs in local communities that provide suicide prevention services and resources to Veterans and their families along with ensuring Veterans have access to our community partners who know how to reach them.” – from the VA Press Release

These grants will be in alignment with the VA’s National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide. It will blend community-based prevention with evidence-based clinical strategies through community efforts.

What organizations qualify for this type of grant?

  • Incorporated private institutions or foundations
  • A corporation wholly owned or controlled by an incorporated private institution or foundation
  • Indian tribes
  • Community-based organizations that can effectively network with local civic organizations
  • Regional Health Systems
  • Other settings where eligible individuals and their families are like to have contact
  • State or local governments

The VA can prioritize awards to organizations that focus on areas with limited access to medical services, in rural communities, on tribal lands, in U.S. territories, in areas with a high number or percentage of minority veterans or women veterans, or in areas with a high number or percentage of calls to the Veterans Crisis Line. Doing this will ensure that those who need these services the most will be more likely to get them.

What services will the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox grant cover?

From the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grants FAQ page.

  • Baseline mental health screening for risk
  • Education on suicide risk and prevention to families and communities
  • Provision of clinical services for emergency treatment
  • Case management services
  • Peer support services
  • VA benefits assistance for eligible individuals and their families
  • Assistance with obtaining and coordinating other benefits provided by the federal government, a state or local government, or an eligible entity
  • Assistance with emergent needs relating to health care services, daily living services, personal financial planning and counseling, transportation services, temporary income support services, fiduciary and representative payee services, legal services to assist the eligible individual with issues that may contribute to the risk of suicide, and child care
  • Nontraditional and innovative approaches and treatment practices, as determined appropriate by VA
  • Other services necessary for improving the mental health status and well-being and reducing the suicide risk of eligible individuals and their families as VA determines appropriate

How much will organizations be able to receive from the grant?

Organizations can apply for grants up to $750,000 and may be able to apply to renew the grant from year to year. As of now, this grant program will run until the fiscal year 2025.

Who is the grant named after?

Veteran Parker Gordon Fox joined the Army in 2014. He was a sniper instructor at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning and was known for his generosity and kindness to others in need. He passed away by suicide in 2020 at the age of 25.

How does an organization apply for these grants?

They can do so through the online application. Applications must be received by June 10, 2022.

 

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New Army Directive Will Make Life Easier for Military Families

The Army’s New Parenthood, Pregnancy, and Postpartum Directive

Last week the U.S. Army updated its Parenthood, Pregnancy, and Postpartum Directive. This was a result of a grassroots effort by soldiers who knew that there needed to be changes made. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth signed the directive on April 19th. 

This directive is aimed at improving opportunities for soldiers to advance their careers and also provide the time and flexibility that is needed to care for military families. 

According to an Army.mil article, “We recruit Soldiers, but we retain Families,” said Gen. James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army. “Winning the war for talent means making sure our best and brightest people don’t have to choose between service and Family.”

This directive has 12 components, six are new, and six are updates. This will affect over 400,000 parents within the Army and includes 29,000 single fathers. This consolidated document will be used as a resource for leaders going forward so they can help military families. 

From the memorandum, “This directive updates Army policy and executes Secretary of Defense priorities pursuant to reference 1f. It incorporates evidence-based health and wellness guidance to improve quality of life, promote flexibility, and enable all Soldiers to safely continue their duties, return to readiness, perform critical assignments, and advance in their careers while growing their Families. This directive is grounded in the Army People Strategy; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Annex; Holistic Health and Fitness practices; Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Policy; and medical guidance. It also serves as part of the broader Action Plan To Prioritize People and Teams.”

Who Does the Directive Apply To?

This directive will apply to:

  • Regular Army (RA)
  • Army National Guard (ARNG)
  • Army National Guard of the United States (ARNGUS)
  • U.S. Army Reserve (USAR)

Categories included in the Parenthood, Pregnancy, and Postpartum Directive

Here are the different categories included in the Parenthood, Pregnancy, and Postpartum Directive as well as some of the changes. You can view the rest of the details of the directive on the memorandum linked above. 

  • Postpartum Body Composition Exemption
    • The body composition exemption is increased from 180 days to 365 days after the conclusion of pregnancy. 
  • Physical Fitness Testing
    • Soldiers will be exempt from taking a record physical fitness test while pregnant and for a year after pregnancy. 
  • Uniforms
    • There will be exemptions for pregnancy and postpartum.
    • Child Development Program facilities may be designated as “No-Hat, No-Salue” areas.
  • Operations and Training Deferment 
    • They want to ensure that at least one parent is home with their child so all birth parents (soldiers who physically give birth) are deferred or excused for 365 days after the birth of their child from deployments, mobilizations, field training, and other types of military assignments. 
  • Professional Military Education (PME)
    • A pregnancy profile will not disqualify a soldier from being selected as an honor graduate or commandant list selectee. 
  • Location Accommodations 
    • Commands will need to provide lactation breaks and designated location areas for lactating soldiers. 
  • Fertility Treatments
    • Soldiers will be stabilized from a PCS or a deployment for up to 365 days from their first appointment while receiving fertility treatments. 
  • Conclusion of Pregnancy
    • Convalescent leave after a birth event, miscarriage, or stillbirth. This will apply to the soldier or the spouse of a soldier.
  • Family Care Plans (FCPs)
    • Soldiers will be given at least three weeks’ notice for duty requirements outside of the normal duty hours as well as for significant changes to the soldier’s normal duty hours.
  • Active Duty Operational Support (ADOS)
    • Pregnant soldiers will be eligible to apply and compete for ADOS tours despite their medical readiness classification 3 status. 
  • Parental Leave in the Reserve Component
    • Birthparents will be granted 12 paid UTAs (Unit Training Assemblies) within a year after giving birth. They will also be allowed 4 UTAs that will be unpaid but could be rescheduled. 
  • Education of Leaders
    • Pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting training will be incorporated throughout all pre-command courses. 

The Parenthood, Pregnancy, and Postpartum Directive will help the Army become more family-friendly which helps with retention. These changes will help to fix some of the issues soldiers have had while trying to raise a family along with a career in the military. 

 

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What You Need to Know About a PPM PCS

Here is what you need to know about a Personally Procured Move (PPM)

When you get those PCS orders, if you are moving CONUS to CONUS, you will be able to decide between doing a full military PCS or a full or partial PPM PCS. 

With a full military move, you set up a time for the military to come to your home and pack up your belongings and deliver them to your new home. This is a great option for some military families, where you don’t have to worry about all the details of the move. This is really the only option for most OCONUS moves.

Some military families don’t want to do a full military move and want to do what is called a PPM move, which used to be called a DITY move. This is a do-it-yourself move with PCS orders but you would be the one to pack and unpack, transport your belongings, or be in charge of hiring your own moving company. 

Why do a PPM?

Most families like to do a PPM PCS for a couple of reasons. Doing the move this way gives you more control over your belongings. This is especially important if you have a lot of family heirlooms or irreplaceable items. A PPM also gives you the control you might not have with a full military move. 

Another reason that people want to do a PPM is that there is the potential to make money from doing so. 

For a PPM you can rent portable moving and storage containers, such as PODS. You can rent a truck or a trailer. You can also use your own vehicle. You can hire a commercial moving company and ship things through places like USPS, FedEx, and UPS.

How can you make money from a PPM?

The reason you can make money from a PPM is because of the way they handle reimbursing you for the move. With a Member Elected PPM, which means you have the option of military movers but choose to do a PPM, you are authorized to receive 100% of what the government would estimate they would pay if they had moved you. 

You would receive a one-time payment and can keep any extra money. If you can stay under the amount they are going to give you, you can make money. 

They base this amount on your actual household goods weight and you can’t exceed your authorized weight entitlement. The 100% will be based on the government’s constructed “best value” cost for the move. 

What is an Actual Cost Reimbursement PPM?

This type of PPM is for when government transportation is not available and you get approved for a PPM. You would then get reimbursed up to the actual cost of your move.

What is the PPM process?

The first thing you would need to do is get approval from your local Travel Office (TO). The paperwork that is required is listed on the dfas.mil website. After that, you would need to sort out the equipment and/or find your moving company if you are going with one.

You will then need to obtain empty and full weight tickets from a certified weigh station for each and every part of your move. Your local TO can help you find certified scales to do this. You should also purchase insurance in case of any losses or damages. The military will not pay for those.

The last step would be to submit all of your paperwork for the final settlement. You need to do this within 45 days from the start of your move. Keep each and every receipt as you will need them for this part. Once everything has been processed you will then receive your payment.

What is a partial PPM?

This is when you transport a portion of your household goods yourself, and allow the military to move the rest. This is a good idea for when you have certain items you want to take with you and move yourself but you don’t want to do the full move on your own.

What if I have more questions?

Your best bet is to contact your local TO. They will know more of the details and have more exact information for you. Military OneSource also has many resources on PCSing and planning your move.

 

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These 8 Commissaries Will Begin Offering Delivery Service June 1st

Delivery From the Commissary? Yes Please!

In 2019, the Commissary added the Click2Go service allowing patrons to be able to order and pay for their groceries online, and then go to the Commissary and use curbside pick up to get them. This has been a great service but the next step is Commissary delivery. When so many civilian grocery stores are offering this service, it only makes sense that the Commissary does eventually too.

As of now, eight Commissaries in the United States will be getting this service on June 1st. They will be:

  • Fort Belvoir 
  • Fort Bragg South 
  • Fort Lewis
  • MacDill AFB 
  • Miramar MCAS
  • Norfolk NAVSTA 
  • San Diego NB 
  • Scott AFB 

The hope is that eventually, this service will be offered at all of the Commissaries in the U.S. to both on and off post/base patrons. 

As of June 1st, the delivery area will be within 20 miles of the Commissaries. The Defense Commissary Agency, which runs the Commissary, has awarded contracts to two veteran-owned companies, YouUp and ChowCall. Both companies are also actively hiring drivers for this service. 

The cost will be around $4 depending on the company and you will still need to pay the 5% Commissary surcharge. The companies will pick up the groceries from the Commissary but will not pick the groceries from the shelves. That will be done by Commissary employees. 

How will this work?

You would go onto the app or website, place your order, pick a two-hour window, pay for your order, and receive a confirmation email. Then, your order will be sent to the contracted company where the driver will head to pick up your order. Your items will be picked out by the Commissary which will communicate with you if there will be any substitutions, any out-of-stock items, or any other questions they might have. The driver will go to the CC2G parking spaces to pick up your order. They will then deliver to you and you will receive an email that they have done so.

We are unsure about how long it will take for this service to go nationwide. As of now, the contracts will be for 90 days, which would be August 30th. The hope is that these contracts will continue and the doorstop delivery service can continue to expand.

The delivery service adds to the Click2Go service and helps make shopping at the Commissary even easier. 

 

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PCSing? How the Relocation Assistance Program Can Help

Use the Relocation Assistance Program to Help Ease the PCS Stress

If you are getting ready for your next PCS, you may be feeling the pressure of what is to come. Military moves can be stressful and require a lot of patience. There are a lot of steps to get through and to check off of your list. Luckily, the military has resources to help.

The Relocation Assistance Program is a congressionally mandated program that was started to ease the stress that comes with a PCS. The program offers information, resources, and one-on-one support for the different aspects of a PCS. This includes moving costs, household goods shipments, housing options, childcare, sponsorship, school information, spouse employment and license transfer, newcomer orientations, loan closet, cultural adaptation, community resources, and more.

Most of the services are offered through your installation’s Military and Family Support Center. Know that the programs and services you find may differ a little from each duty station, but you should be able to find what you need to help you during your PCS.

If you go to MilitaryINSTALLATIONS search page, and search for your new installation, you can find your installation’s page with most of the information you will need for your PCS. They will have information on the units at the duty station, information on motor vehicles, installation access, firearms, dog restrictions, Covid policies, check-in procedures, emergency assistance, and more.

You can also find information on different military and family support services such as the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) and Child and Youth Services (CYS). You can find links to an installation program and services directory for the area as well as other local community information. Basically, it will be your guide for your new duty station and allow you to get prepared for your move, and ease the transition once you get there.

You can also use the search to find the Relocation Assistance Program or sometimes called the Relocation Readiness Program at your local duty station. This result will give you the address, phone number, and webpage information if your duty station has one.

You can search the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS search page by military installation, state resources, or program or service to find out exactly what you need.

In addition, the Relocation Assistance Program offers services for special needs families. If you have a special needs child, you will be worried about the transition to a new location. The program providers will be able to help you connect with your EFMP family support provider so you can get the help you need in making the transition.

The program also helps with emergency financial aid by connecting you with the personal financial management services that they offer at your new duty station. If you are a foreign-born spouse, they can help with resources as well as referrals about immigration and naturalization, help find English language programs, and give advice on getting around the local area.

When getting ready for your PCS, make sure to visit the PCS and Military Moves page. This page is where you can find our details such as your weight allowance, your entitlements, and schedule your move.

Need even more help? Military One Source has a live chat you can access to talk with Military One Source experts about your PCS and any questions you might have.

As you can see, the Relocation Assistance Program offers many resources and benefits for military families going through the PCS. A PCS has a lot of steps and details. The Relocation Assistance Program can make it a much easier process.

 

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PCS Friendly Business Ideas

Looking For a New Business Idea that You Can Easily Take with You During Military Life?

As a military spouse, you want to be able to have your own career. This can be complicated with frequent moves, and just the uncertainty of military life. One option is to run your own business. Here are a few ideas of PCS friendly businesses you can take with you when you move every few years.

Freelancing

As a freelancer, you have a lot of flexibility in how much you work, who you do work for, and what you work on. You can be a freelance writer, freelance editor, freelance graphic designer, and more. There are many companies out there looking for this type of work and willing to pay for a freelancer.

Virtual Assistant

As a virtual assistant, you would specialize in offering administrative services from a remote location. Your tasks can include email management, booking appointments, calendar management, booking travel, file management, social media, and more. You can work as a virtual assistant from almost anywhere, no matter where the client might live.

Blogger or Podcaster

Whether you like to write or talk, starting a blog, podcast, or even a social media account can be a good way to get your voice out there and work towards running your own business. You would want to find a niche you are interested in and commit to posting regularly. You can earn money with ads, sponsored posts, affiliates, and more.

Tutoring

If you like to help children, tutoring is a great option. You can do this virtually or in person working with kids from K-12. You can work for yourself or even through a company such as Tutor.com.

Creating Online Products

If you are a creative person, selling your products online is a great way to make money. You can put your products on Spouse-ly, an online marketplace for military spouses, veterans, and first responders. Websites such as Etsy and Zazzle offer ways to sell your products, with or without having to keep an inventory. You can make physical products, digital products, or have products made by a 3rd party.

Teaching Online

If you want to teach children or teens, you can do that online from anywhere you might be stationed. You can do this in different ways. You can work as a teacher for a virtual school or work for a company like VIPKID as an independent contractor. Through VIPKID you could teach children in foreign countries English remotely.

Web Design

Designing websites for individuals and companies can be a great way to make an income. You can use your creativity, and knowledge of tech to create the websites. You can have several clients at once, and take as much work as you are able to manage.

FCC Provider

If you love children, you could apply to be a FCC Provider. FCC or Family Child Care Providers offer childcare in their homes from babies up to age 12. You can do this whether you live on your military installation or off. You will need to be certified and meet the requirements in order to get started. People always need good and flexible childcare in the military community.

House Cleaning

Just like childcare, military families are always in need of housekeeping services, especially when getting ready for a PCS. If you enjoy this type of work, setting up a house cleaning service can be a good way to earn money within the military community.

Living in the time we do, there are so many options for starting your own business and making money from home, no matter where you might live in the world.

 

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Telemedicine Options Through TRICARE For Your Mental Health

Does TRICARE Cover Telemedicine Options? Here Is What You Need to Know

Why Use Telehealth?

Telehealth can be easier on your schedule since you can use the service from anywhere. You can use your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Telehealth can also be less stressful than going to an in-person appointment.

You won’t have to worry about driving there, or finding a place to park. You might not have to worry about having to leave work or finding childcare. Telehealth can be a good way for some people to get the care that they need without having to be in an in-person environment.

How Can I Use Telehealth Services?

As a TRICARE recipient, you can use Doctor On Demand or Telemynd. Both of these services connect you with licensed therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

Doctor on Demand

Doctor on Demand offers urgent care and behavioral health options. The average wait time is five minutes or less with an urgent care provider. The wait time for behavioral health is just a few days. They are open beyond regular business hours and they also have an app. You can find these behavioral health services through Doctor on Demand:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Stress
  • Trauma and loss
  • PTSD
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Relationship issues
  • Mental health screenings
  • Grief

Keep in mind that Doctor on Demand isn’t currently available to active duty service members. There is however a pilot program in TX for active duty service members to receive urgent care through Doctor on Demand.

Telemynd

Telemynd is a nationally recognized partner of TRICARE and provides behavioral health services, psychology, and psychiatry services. They match you with a provider who is uniquely qualified to treat you. There will be zero copays or cost shares, no predetermined maximum sessions per calendar, no authorization required for telebehavioral health for TRICARE Prime active duty family members and retirees, and 100% secure sessions conducted over video.

Telemynd also offers the MyCare Intensive Support Program. This program is remote intensive mental health care for clients with passive suicidality. It provides targeted ongoing support over 8-12 weeks, includes psychiatric care, psychotherapy and care coordination, and provides a transition plan to ongoing care after the program ends.

They have also stated on the site that “MyCare Intensive Support Program is not a crisis resource. If this is an emergent crisis or you are experiencing thoughts of harm to yourself or others, please call 911 immediately. For a list of crisis resources, click here.”

What Is the Copay?

Your copay will be the same as it normally is. However, during COVID-19 there are zero copayments or cost-shares for telemedicine. This could change at any time.

Active duty service members will need a referral before getting care under the telemedicine benefit. Active duty family members and retirees shouldn’t but there are some exceptions.

Telemedicine can be a good option for some TRICARE recipients. To learn more, visit the TRICARE page on telemedicine or the Humana page on telemedicine.

 

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“Our Military Kids” Provides Grants to Military Children

The “Our Military Kids” Program Offers $300 Grants

We all know that kids and their activities can cost money. If you have multiple children, that can add up. If you are an active duty family you have access to what they offer on your military installation, but if you are a National Guard, Reservist, or veteran family it can be more complicated to find affordable activities for your children.

Our Military Kids is a non-profit that wanted to find a meaningful way to give back to the National Guard and Reserve troops who were deployed. Starting as a Virginia National Guard pilot program, they have provided $77,000 in grants since 2004. These grants can be used for sports, fine arts, camps, and tutoring programs.

Who qualifies for the “Our Military Kids” grants?

There are two groups who qualify for these grants, children of deployed National Guard and Reservist service members, including Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, and Coast Guard Reserve, and children of severely injured veterans from any service branch.

National Guard and Reservists don’t qualify if they have been activated or gone away to training. To qualify as a severely injured veteran, the service member must have sustained combat-related injuries while deployed in support of any post-9/11 overseas contingency operation, must be classified as severely injured, which is 30% or more, and be designated by the Department of Veteran Affairs in one of six categories. They are burns, amputation, mental health, spinal cord injury, Traumatic brain injury, or PTSD.

Each military child will need to apply and can receive up to $300 per grant. Those in the Deployed or Stateside Activated NGR Program can receive one grant per deployment with 80-179 day orders, or two if the orders are over 180 days. For those within the Severely Injured Program, children can receive a grant every six months for a max of four grants as well as a 5th FLEX grant at any time during the recovery period.

What can and can’t they be used for?

These grants can be used for youth sports, fine arts, STEM programs, and tutoring. They can’t be used for daycare fees, school tuition, or mission trips.

What do you need to show to be eligible?

In order to prove you are eligible for the Deployed or Stateside Activated NGR Program, you will need to show a copy of deployment orders, or CED in the Air National Guard, showing OCONUS duty. You will also need to show one of three forms of identification for the child, and documentation of the activities showing the cost. This could be a flyer, brochure, website, screenshot, or a letter from the organization that clearly states the cost. The letters must be typed.

In order to prove you are eligible for the Severely Injured Program, the service member or veteran must also be actively seeking treatment for his or her service injuries and must have a case manager or medical practitioner who is able to certify their information in writing. Our Military Kids has a template you can use on their website.

In addition, you will need to show the breakdown of your disability percentage, your DD214, and documents to verify your child. You will also need documentation about the activity or program your child is going to use the grant for. If you are still active duty you will need to show a letter from your case manager as well as a recent copy of your military orders moving you into a WTU or medical hold.

How do you get the “Our Military Kids” grants?

You can get a printable application on their website and submit it.

Once a grant has been approved, the packet will be sent to the child’s home address. In the packet, you can find a special recognition for the child as well as a grant check which is payable to the organization that was submitted.

It’s important to note that grant approvals are always subject to the availability of funds.

 

The Near Patient Program is Helping Military Families Overseas

The Near Patient Program is Helping Military Families Overseas

Last September, the Near Patient Program was started to give TRICARE Families overseas extra support. The program will allow families to find the access they need to medical and non-medical professionals in their overseas locations. Oftentimes when you are stationed overseas, you might have some trouble figuring out where to go for your medical needs. The Near Patient Program can help with that. 

Michael Griffin, program analyst with the TRICARE Overseas Program Office at the Defense Health Agency, stated, “The Near Patient Program helps beneficiaries based in certain overseas locations with their health care needs. Service members and their families can often experience cultural and language barriers in a foreign country. This program makes navigating the overseas health care system easier, so families have a more positive patient experience.”

The Near Patient Program team is made up of both clinical and non-clinical staff who will assist families in navigating the overseas health care system. The teams work with overseas civilian providers, MTFs, the TRICARE area office (TAO), and Combatant Commands (COCOMS) to address the patient’s medical or cultural questions.

What Services Does the Near Patient Program Provide

Listed on the Tricare Overseas website is this list of what they provide:

  • Explain the in-country health care system based on local expertise
  • Break down local medical practices and help bridge cultural gaps and nuances 
  • Answer medical questions and help to improve patients’ understanding of care
  • Provide comprehensive assistance from beginning to end of the patient journey 
  • Oversee inpatient admissions and collaborate with others, as appropriate
  • Work with local providers to ensure medical records collection and resolution of non-clinical issues

As you can see, this can be very helpful to those overseas who find the medical process confusing or just need reassurance that they are getting the best care possible. 

Who qualifies for the Near Patient Program? Those who are enrolled in TRICARE Prime Overseas or TRICARE Prime Remote Overseas. Service members and their families also need to be in one of the following countries:

  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg)
  • Spain
  • Greece
  • Poland
  • Bahrain
  • South Korea
  • Japan

Beyond having TRICARE Overseas and being stationed in one of those locations, you will need to make sure that you or a family member has opened a case with the TRICARE Overseas Program in the past two years.

If you are stationed overseas and not near a program, you can find support through the TOP Regional Call Center

How do you contact your local Near Patient Program team? You would do so through the MyCare Overseas beneficiary app. You can use the portal live chat feature. You can find this app in the Apple Store or on Google Play. They also have a web-based portal to pull up on your laptop or computer. 

Make sure to take advantage of this program if you are overseas or will be in the future. This will help you during your time overseas and allow you to continue to get the medical care you and your family need.

 

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VA Proposes Adding These Rare Cancers to Its List

These 9 Cancers Will Be Added to the VA’s Presumed Service-Connected List

On March 1st, 2022, during the State of Union by President Biden, it was announced that the VA will be adding 9 rare cancers to the presumed service-connected lists as related to military environmental exposure.

The White House stated that “Too often, military service results in increased health risks and other consequences for our veterans. Some of these injuries and illnesses may take years to manifest. Some are visible and some are invisible. This can make it difficult for veterans to prove in-service exposure and establish a direct connection for disabilities resulting from military environmental exposures such as burn pits.”

The Biden-Harris administration wants to advance the efforts to address the harmful effects of exposure during military service.

How Did This Come About?

The Department of Veterans Affairs determined through a review of scientific and medical evidence that there is a biologic plausibility between airborne hazards, specifically particulate matter, and carcinogenesis of the respiratory tract. Particulate matter is a term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets that are found in the air and is also sometimes called particle pollutions. They also determined that the unique circumstances of these rare cancers warrant a presumption of service connection, which means these disabilities were caused by military service and can be awarded disability compensation.

The VA will focus on veterans who served any amount of time in the Southwest Asia theater, and other locations. They will also invite and consider public comments on this issue.

What Are the 9 Cancers?

  1. Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx.
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea.
  3. Adenocarcinoma of the trachea.
  4. Salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea.
  5. Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung.
  6. Large cell carcinoma of the lung.
  7. Salivary gland-type tumors of the lung.
  8. Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung.
  9. Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough stated that “This is the right decision. The rarity and severity of these illnesses, and the reality that these conditions present a situation where it may not be possible to develop additional evidence prompted us to take this critical action. We’ll continue to hold ourselves accountable to Veterans to provide more care, more benefits and more services to more Veterans than ever before.”

This will allow more veterans to qualify for disability if they have been affected by these rare cancers. Once this is official, the VA will be reaching out to veterans that have been affected by these cancers as well as survivors to let them know about their potential eligibility.

 

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PCSing & Your Child’s Education: The Military Interstate Compact

How the Military Interstate Compact Can Help With Your Child’s Education During PCS

Active duty military life means moving, sometimes pretty often. This can be all well and good for the service member and their spouse, but what about the children? According to the DODEA, military families move 3 times as often as the average non military family. Oftentimes children will have to move at not the best time, either after starting kindergarten, right before middle school, or in the middle of their high school year. This can cause a lot of anxiety for the child and for the family.

The good news is that there is the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. This compact was created with the collaboration of the Department of Defense, the National Center for Interstate Compacts, and the Council of State Governments. The compact addresses the educational transition issues of children of military families. The purpose is to ensure that military children are given the same opportunities for educational success as other children and are not penalized or delayed in achieving their educational goals.

Who can use the Military Interstate Compact?

  • Active duty military families
  • National Guard and Reserve members on active duty orders
  • Service members or veterans who are medically discharged or retired for one year
  • Service members who were killed in action

What Does the Military Interstate Compact Cover?

Here is a brief rundown of some of what the compact covers. You can read the full factsheet on the DODEA website.

Eligibility

The compact asks school districts to examine their rules for eligibility and allow military children to be able to have continuity with their education. For example, allowing military children to be able to participate in extracurricular activities, even if the application and tryout deadlines have passed.

Enrollment

Parents can take a set of unofficial records to the new school to enroll the child while waiting for the official records to arrive.

 

Find college scholarships for military children, dependents, and more!

Immunizations

Parents will have 30 days to get their child immunized.

What Age Your Child Can Start School

If your child is in kindergarten or the 1st grade, and the entrance ages are different at each school, your child can continue in the grade they started in.

Placement for Required Classes, Advanced Placement, and Special Needs Programs

The new school must initially honor the original placement from the old school. The new school can then do a new evaluation but they can’t keep your child in a “holding class” while they wait to do that.

Graduation

The school district may waive courses that are required for graduation if similar courses have already been completed at the old school. This is, however, not mandatory, but if the schools deny a waiver for a class, they need to be able to show a reasonable justification for it. In addition, a senior can receive a diploma from their previous school if the new school isn’t able to accommodate them for the required courses and exit exams that they need. This will need to be worked out between the two schools.

Special Needs Children

If the Individual With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) covers your child, they have the right to comparable services that are provided by their most current IEP.

Military Interstate Compact Resources

The Military Interstate Compact is here to help as you PCS from one location to another. Here are a couple more resources to help if you are going through this time of transition.

 

Stay up to date on the latest military & veteran benefits for you and your family!

 

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Updates Proposed to the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities

The VA Proposes Updates for Respiratory, Auditory, and Medical Disorders

Some changes could be coming to the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities having to do with respiratory, auditory, and medical disorders. This will enable the VA to incorporate modern medical data and terminology to provide veterans with more accurate and consistent decisions. 

The plan would be to incorporate modern medical data and to accurately compensate based on these changes. The new rules have been posted at the Federal Register and veterans and the public will be able to comment on them for the next 60 days. This means it is not being changed at the moment, just being proposed as a possible update to the VA rating system for disabilities. 

Proposed Changes by VA

Here is what is being proposed:

  • Sleep Apnea – Sleep Apnea is a serious sleep disorder that happens when your breathing stops and starts while you are sleeping. The change would modernize the rating criteria for sleep apnea. This would include rating a veteran at 0% if a CPAP or other treatment would help treat all of their symptoms. This would mean they would not receive compensation. 
  • Respiratory – For respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD, the rules would slightly lower the requirements needed for a 100% rating.
  • Tinnitus – For tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears, the change would look at it as a symptom of an underlying disease instead of a stand-alone disability as it does now. 
  • Mental Health – For mental health, the minimum rating would change from 0% to 10% and they would get rid of the rule that veterans couldn’t get a 100% rating for a mental health condition if they are able to work. Instead of evaluating mental health conditions based on the number and type of symptoms present, they will do so in a more robust and holistic way. They would evaluate how impactful the disability is across five different domains. They are Cognition, interpersonal interactions and relationships, task completion, life activities and navigating environments, and self-care.

No Impact for Veterans Currently Receiving Compensation

In a quote from a news release posted 02/15/2022, Thomas Murphy, Northeast district director stated that “Veterans who currently receive compensation for a service-connected condition in these body systems will not have their disability rating impacted when the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities is updated. Updating the rating schedule allows Veterans to receive decisions based on the most current medical knowledge relating to their condition.”

This means that these changes wouldn’t take away any existing benefits and lower a current veteran’s disability rating. It will however allow a veteran to increase their benefits because of these changes. 

Currently, if a veteran with no dependents is receiving a 10% rating their payment would be $152.64 a month, vs $3,332.06 a month if they are rated at 100%.

Conditions Updated by VA Since 2017

Since 2017, the VA has updated the following conditions:

  • Dental and Oral Conditions
  • Endocrine System
  • Gynecological Conditions and Disorders of the Breast
  • Organs of Special Sense (eye conditions)
  • Skin
  • Hematologic and Lymphatic Systems
  • Infectious Diseases, Immune Disorders, and Nutritional Deficiencies
  • Musculoskeletal System and Muscle Injuries
  • Genitourinary and Cardiovascular Systems

This change could be a good one, allowing the rating system to reflect a more modern evaluation method. Veterans and the public have until April 18th, 2022 to leave a comment on these proposed rules. 

 

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Getting Started With VA Loan Benefits

VA Loan Benefits: Getting Started

Are you wondering how to get started with your VA home loan benefits? The most important thing to do starting out is to determine whether you are currently eligible to receive a VA Certificate of Eligibility (VA COE). Those who are eligible may apply for it may do so in a variety of ways, but you cannot apply until you have met the minimum time-in-service requirements needed.

These time-in-service requirements will vary depending on when you started earning credit for military service.

The specific requirements for becoming eligible for a VA COE are in their own separate article since there are many variables including whether you are Guard or Reserve, Active Duty, or a qualifying surviving spouse of a military member who died as a result of active duty.

For this article, the most important thing you need to know is that you’ll have to check your time-in-service against the requirements based on the “service era” when you joined (Vietnam War, for example, Desert Storm/Gulf War era, etc.).

Getting Started With Your VA Loan Benefits

Can you get a head start on your VA home loan benefits by starting the application process before you have officially been granted a VA COE?

Those who have just joined the military as either an active-duty recruit or a Guard or Reserve member may be tempted to get a jump on the process, but the VA Lender’s Handbook, VA Pamphlet 26-7, says this cannot happen.

“The lender must ensure the applicant is an eligible Veteran before an appraisal is ordered, the loan cannot be processed or closed. Lenders should never close a loan before they establish eligibility. VA cannot guarantee a loan for an ineligible Veteran”.

Your loan officer’s hands are tied for much of the application process until she can obtain your VA COE. One thing to keep in mind? Your loan officer may be able to help you get your COE when the time is right, so don’t think you can’t talk to a loan officer about your options. It’s just that you can’t begin the application process in earnest without the COE.

Counting Down Toward VA Loan Eligibility As A New Service Member

A common question at this state? When does the clock start counting down toward VA loan eligibility?

In this context, we are not talking about the minimum time you must serve (see above) but rather when the waiting period begins and when it ends before. Some mistakenly assume the clock starts the moment you are committed to military duty. But this is not true.

 

>> Interested in a no PMI, zero down payment possible home loan?  For a no-obligation, free consultation regarding your VA Loan eligibility, please go here.

 

In general, if you have not graduated from basic training and you have not graduated from any required technical training programs for a career field or military specialty, your clock has NOT started ticking yet. You must exit the initial training phase of your first months on duty first.

To be absolutely clear: your time-in-service countdown begins AFTER basic training, technical school, A-school, AIT, etc. Once you have met the requirements, apply for your COE with the Department of Veterans Affairs online, by mail, or via the lender.

After You Receive Your VA COE

The Certificate of Eligibility establishes you as being eligible for the VA loan program, but it does not guarantee loan approval. You’ll need to prepare for a home loan like you would for any major credit application:

  • Work on your record of on-time payments for all financial obligations at least one year in advance of any home loan application;
  • Begin budgeting and saving for your home loan closing costs and expenses
  • Consider the type of home you want to buy
  • Plan for the future: are you subject to deployment? Are you a retired military member planning to settle in one place for a long time? Are you starting a family or increasing one?
  • Consider the type of property you want to buy (condo, townhome, farm residence, manufactured home, suburban house, etc.)

The fact that the VA loan program does not automatically approve all borrowers for home loans should convince some applicants to work on their financials a year or better before applying. However, not all do. While it is true that there is no VA-required minimum FICO score range for VA loan approval, your lender may require a credit score in the 600 range or better for more competitive rates and terms.

When you are ready to start looking for a lender you’ll want to shop around for the right one–not all participating VA lenders are alike and VA loan rules do NOT require all participating lenders to offer all VA loan products.

That means if you want to buy a mobile home and lot, for example, with a  VA mortgage, but the housing market where you are searching doesn’t support such loans, you may have a hard time finding a VA lender who can help. The same is true for condo loans and other types of homes–if a housing market doesn’t have enough demand for a certain kind of property, a loan for it might be harder to locate.

Knowing Is Half The Battle

It pays to do some research on the property types you can and cannot purchase with a VA mortgage. For example, you may be allowed to purchase a farm residence with a VA loan but that loan will ONLY be issued for the residential value of the property.

Another thing worth knowing when you start out with a VA mortgage? Occupancy is required. You are not permitted to use your VA loan to buy a vacation home, a timeshare, or a bed-and-breakfast. You are required to occupy the home you buy with a VA loan or arrange to have eligible immediate family members occupy the home on your behalf.

But occupancy rules do NOT mean you are in trouble with your VA mortgage if you are deployed, reassigned, sent on temporary duty or TDY, etc.

Occupancy has more to do with your intent for the property at purchase time and far less to do with your miliary duty requirements. If you intend on buying a primary residence, the VA loan program can work for you even if you deployer or get stationed elsewhere.

VA home loans are also ONLY for properties that can be classified and/or taxed as real estate even if they are not taxed as such in the state they are located in. You cannot use a VA mortgage to buy an RV, houseboat, or any property that will not or cannot be fixed on a permanent foundation.

For Those Getting Started With A VA Loan Upon Retirement or Separation

The timing of your VA loan application may be very important if you are retiring or separating from military service and have never used your VA mortgage benefits before. One issue to keep in mind? Your income and employment. The lender is required to verify your employment situation as part of the application. Do you plan to rely on your retirement pay and investments only after you return to civilian life? Or do you plan to re-enter the workforce?

Your lender may have a harder time approving your loan if you apply in the downtime between your last job and your next job unless you have income and cash reserves that allow the lender to justify the mortgage.

VA loan rules state that the lender must verify your employment including how long you have been in your current position.\

Applying for a VA mortgage after you have successfully re-entered the job market makes more sense than trying to convince the lender that you can afford the loan without the new job. Naturally, the rules are different when a military retiree does not intend to come back to the workforce and supplies their financials to the lender to show how they can afford the mortgage in retirement.

And you will be required to do so if that’s applicable to you. And that’s not just a condition of the VA home loan program, that’s fairly standard operating procedure for home loans in general.

What To Do Next

Once you know you are eligible to apply for a VA Certificate of Eligibility, it’s smart to shop around for a lender while you are also shopping around for a home. Treat them the same; compare prices, terms, and other variables. Once you have found a lender you can either get help obtaining your COE or apply for it yourself. There is no VA-required home loan private mortgage insurance and no VA-required down payment for typical VA loans.

But you may be able to save even more money upfront on your VA home loan if you are eligible to receive or currently do receive VA compensation for service-connected medical issues.

In such cases, you may be eligible to apply for a VA Loan Funding Fee Waiver. This can save you thousands of dollars on out-of-pocket costs and you should be sure to tell the lender that you want to apply for this exemption. Some veterans find that the VA experiences delays in issuing their VA disability ratings (the disability rating is crucial to the VA Loan Funding Fee exemption) and may actually close the mortgage without being assigned a VA rating. Does this mean the borrower must pay the VA loan funding fee?

Yes, it does, but the VA makes a provision to apply for a refund in such cases. The veteran is not entitled to an automatic funding fee refund. It must be applied for, but be sure to inform your lender in advance if you think the funding fee exemption may (or may not) get approved before the loan closes.

You’ll need to ask the lender about the specific procedure for paying, or being approved for the waiver of the funding fee.

 

>> Interested in a no PMI, zero down payment possible home loan?  For a no-obligation, free consultation regarding your VA Loan eligibility, please go here.

 

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Your Commissary Could Launch Grocery Delivery

DeCA Considers Grocery Delivery

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) is responsible for the operations and expansion of commissaries all around the world. The commissary access afforded to the military community is one of the most widely used benefits across all the services. Now, it is likely that the commissaries will begin offering delivery services.

The DeCA Click2Go (C2G)

DeCA’s Click2Go service is only a “Customer Pick Up” option for online shoppers at this time. This service has saved beneficiaries countless hours that would have otherwise been spent on shopping. By being able to order online and schedule a pick up time, DeCA has expanded their products and services to a wider customer base.

This C2G service utilizes the NCR Freshop application, which is an eCommerce platform hosted in the Amazon cloud. So, when a customer places an order, commissary personnel do the shopping and have the packages pre-staged for the pick-up delivery. Once the customer picks up the delivery, they approve the payment and the order is complete.

See Also: Commissary Benefits Expand to Veteran Community

Grocery Delivery on the Horizon

Shopping and delivery services like Instacart have taken society by storm. It has become an entrenched part of life in most urban centers, and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. To that end, DeCA has taken notice and intends to bring the same type of services to its own customers.

Currently, DeCA has solicited a Request for Information (RFI) seeking information from potential service providers as to the feasibility of implementing DeCA’s delivery plans. Ideally, DeCA is searching for a service provider that has an “out of the box” compatibility with the Click2Go platform already in use.

During this time of market research, DeCA will receive feedback from interested companies explaining if and how they can meet the Operational Requirements of the delivery service.

DeCA’s Operational Requirements

In addition to the normal expectations society has for delivery service providers (conduct, safety standards, etc.), DeCA has specific concerns for a large portion of its customer base. Since most commissaries are on military installations, and access to those installations is highly controlled, DeCA seeks a service provider that already has experience engaging with on-base deliveries.

It is apparent by reading DeCA’s RFI for Delivery Services that the agency seeks the most seamless way of offering the delivery option to its customers. And why wouldn’t they? With companies like Shipt, GoPuff, and Instacart scurrying groceries to millions of homes during the pandemic lock-downs, it only makes sense that DeCA would seek this same service on and around military installations.

When the service does start, it will likely only be for the CONUS installations. There will certainly be a delivery radius, outside of which the Commissary delivery option will not be available. We can only speculate about such details at this point, as they may be determined by the company providing the service.

Even so, the RFI contains a list of CONUS locations where the service will be available.

Will DeCA Launch Grocery Delivery?

I certainly hope that the delivery option becomes available. Not only is it convenient, but for the past couple of years, it has been an essential service for those stuck at home. From a business point of view, if DeCA wants to remain competitive and relevant, then adding a delivery service is a must. DeCA hopes to get this launched as quickly as they can, but there is still no timeline.

 

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The 10 Best PCS Benefits for the Military & Their Families

Ranking the Best PCS Benefits for Members of the Military and Their Families

Most military service members and their families will experience at least one PCS during their time in the military. If you haven’t been through a PCS yet, you will. But what benefits can you get that are related to PCSing? Here are 10 of them!

1) Transferring Professional Licenses

Each service branch will help reimburse licensure costs that come up when a service member’s spouse has to PCS. This started with the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act and will reimburse up to $1,000 for relicensure and certification costs because of a relocation or PCS move. The moves do have to cross U.S. state lines to include OCONUS to stateside moves.

2) Per Diem

Service members will receive money back for meals, incidentals, and lodging when you are moving to your new duty station. This is called Per Diem. You can check the rates here.

3) Dislocation Allowance or DLA

DLA will partially reimburse you for miscellaneous moving costs. You can be paid once per PCS. You can check the rates here.

4) Temporary Lodging Allowance or TLA

TLA helps with the cost of temporary lodging and meals while waiting on OCONUS housing. You can get TLA for a max of 60 days when arriving and 10 days when leaving. TLE or Temporary lodging Expense is for CONUS moves for 5 or 10 days.

5) The Personally-Procured-Move or PPM

PPM or what was formally called a DITY move. This is where you can move yourself, and then can be reimbursed up to 100% of the GCC (Government Constructive Cost) if you have your own carrier or 95% of the GCC if you move your property on your own. You can also receive an advanced allowance to help with out-of-pocket expenses. This type of move is popular for some military families and others would rather the military move 100%.

6) The Relocation Assistance Program

The Relocation Assistance Program will help you prepare for a PCS. It provides resources and one-on-one support for moving costs, household goods shipments, housing options, childcare, sponsorship, schools, spouse employment, newcomer orientations, loan closets, and more. This program is usually offered through your installation.

7) Moving Pets Overseas

If your pet is required to be quarantined, you can receive up to $550 per PCS. This doesn’t mean you get reimbursed for moving your pet in general.

8) Monetary Allowance in Lieu of Transportation or MALT

MALT is paid as mileage reimbursement for service members and their dependents during a PCS move. MALT is paid on a per-mile basis for the official distance of each portion of travel. The MALT rate per authorized POC is .18/mile for 2022.

9) Shipping a Vehicle

If you have an overseas PCS, the government will pay to ship or store ONE POV (Privately Owned Vehicle) when you receive your orders. This is for OCONUS to OCONUS, OCONUS to CONUS, and CONUS to OCONUS.

10) Shipment of Household Goods

The government will pay to ship your household goods. There are weight limits and are based on your rank and dependent status. You will have to pay a fee if you go over. The military pays for movers to come and take your goods from one duty station to another. Move.mil is now on Military One Source to help you through your move.

 

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The 10 Best Medical Benefits for the Military and Their Families

Ranking the Best Medical Benefits for Members of the Military and Their Families

TRICARE is a big part of being a service member. TRICARE is the health care program of the United States Department of Defense Military Health System. Within TRICARE and the military as a whole there are many different medical benefits. Here are 10 of the best of those.

1) Breast Pumps and Supplies

TRICARE offers breast pumps, breast pump supplies, and breastfeeding counseling at no cost to new military moms. This includes service member moms as well as military spouses, and every branch qualifies, including the National Guard and Reserves. This benefit allows for one breast pump for every one birth event, either birth or adoption.

2) United Concordia

United Concordia administers the TRICARE Dental benefit. This is separate from the rest of TRICARE. You would use your Department of Defense Self-Service login to create your account. The monthly premiums are based on the sponsor’s military status and type of enrollment.

3) Pharmacy Benefit

When it comes to using a pharmacy, you can use the military pharmacy at no cost or go to a local pharmacy. The big ones are Kroger, Publix, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS. You can also use TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery, pretty much anywhere you might be stationed.

4) TRICARE for National Guard and Reserves

If you serve in the National Guard or the Reserves, you can still use TRICARE. You will have to pay a monthly premium to get what is called TRICARE Reserve Select. As of 2022, the cost is $229.99/month for the service member and family and $46.70/month for individuals.

5) Military Crisis Line

The Military Crisis Line is a phone number, online chat, and text-message service that is free to service members including the National Guard and Reserves, and veterans. You don’t have to be registered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or enrolled in a VA health care to use the line.

6) WIC Overseas

WIC or the Women, Infants, and Children Overseas Program provide families with nutritious food, tips on how to prepare balanced meals, nutrition and health screenings, and other resources that help you and your family lead healthier lives. WIC Overseas is available to civilian employees, DoD contractors, family members, and members of the uniformed services.

7) ECHO

ECHO stands for Extended Care Health Option and provides financial assistance to beneficiaries with special needs to an integrated set of services and supplies. You must be enrolled in EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program) through the sponsor’s branch of service. Eligible beneficiaries are those who are diagnosed with moderate or severe intellectual disabilities, a serious physical disability, or an extraordinary physical or psychological condition.

8) TRICARE Young Adult

TRICARE Young Adult is for qualified adult children. It can be purchased after eligibility for regular TRICARE coverage ends at age 21(or 23 if in college). They must be unmarried and an adult child of an eligible sponsor. They must also be 21, but not yet 26 years old, and not eligible for enrollment in an employer-sponsored health plan based on their own employment. They also can’t be otherwise eligible for TRICARE. You can choose between Select and Prime and there will be monthly premiums and the plan and sponsor’s status determine what you pay for covered services.

9) TRICARE Autism Care Demonstration (ACD)

The TRICARE Autism Care Demonstration covers the applied behavior analysis (ABA) series. This began on July 25, 2014, and was authorized to run through December 31, 2023. You must be enrolled in a TRICARE health plan and diagnosed with ASD by an approved provider. The changes that were made in 2021 worked to develop a more comprehensive ACD program that addresses the needs of all beneficiaries with ACD and integrates all potential services for the best possible outcomes. You can read more about it here.

10) TRICARE for Life

TRICARE for Life is a Medicare wraparound coverage for TRICARE-eligible beneficiaries who have Medicare Part A and B. Coverage is automatic if you do have Medicare Part A and B, and you must pay Medicare Part B premiums. There are no enrollment fees and premiums are based on income. Coverage is available worldwide.

 

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House Members Ask: Can We Waive Copays On Birth Control With TRICARE?

Lawmakers Ask For No Copays On Birth Control

TRICARE currently requires copays when it comes to contraceptives and designated health care visits that are related to screening, counseling, insertion, removal, or maintenance of FDA-approved contraceptive devices. On January 20, 2022, 141 House members wrote a letter to press Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to waive these copays. 

This is being led by the Democratic Women’s Caucus and supported by:

  • National Women’s Law Center
  • Center for Reproductive Rights
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America
  • Physicians for Reproductive Health
  • Power to Decide
  • NARAL Pro-Choice America
  • SWAN

Goal Is For TRICARE Beneficiaries to Have Same Benefits as ACA

It is important to note that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) does guarantee that employer-sponsored and marketplace health plans already cover these benefits without cost-sharing. This is a big reason to make a change so that in this area TRICARE beneficiaries are given these same benefits. 

A quote from the members stated, “As you know, access to contraception and the ability to determine if and when to have children are inextricably tied to one’s health and well-being, equality, financial security, and control over one’s life. Prioritizing access to contraception for servicemembers and their dependents is an investment in their health and well-being and an investment in the stability of our Armed Forces.”

In the letter that was sent, it was mentioned that the House of Representatives has repeatedly demonstrated support for ensuring that all TRICARE beneficiaries are not subject to copays for conception. Because of the current law, copays for birth control prescriptions can’t be waived at places other than a military pharmacy, but they can be for appointments.

TRICARE Select Military Family Members or Retirees Subject to Copays

Military family members or retirees that are enrolled in TRICARE Select are subject to these copays and have to pay out of pocket for counseling and other contraceptive-related appointments. Retirees and family members enrolled in TRICARE Prime also have copays when performed by a TRICARE-authorized provider. 

Military Families Often Feel Like They Do Not Have Control

In the letter, members also bring up how access to contraception and being able to determine when and if to have children, is tied to health and well-being as well as equality, financial security, and control over one’s life. Military families often feel like they do not have control, but this is an area of life they should be able to have control over. 

While the costs of the copays might not be too expensive, even a small cost can cause people to forgo treatment or sessions. By waiving the co-pay fees, not only does this put TRICARE on par with other insurance companies but would allow more military members and families to use the benefit which is a huge plus to the military community. 

You can read the text of the letter here.

 

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Commissary Benefits Expand to Veteran Community: See If You’re Eligible

Commissary Benefits for Veterans

In 2019, the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act expanded Commissary benefits to veterans meeting certain eligibility criteria.

Previously, Commissary benefits were only open to active duty service members, their dependents, retirees, and a select few others in restricted categories. Things have changed, and DeCA is having a hard time getting the word out.

The Commissary Benefits

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) maintains the Commissary program, which allows patrons to purchase grocery and household items tax-free. They do, however, levy a 5% surcharge which goes to the maintenance and building of new commissaries.

The potential savings throughout any given year can add up quickly when compared to shopping at other establishments. The Commissaries, DeCA says, can save almost 24% of a family’s food budget each year.

The 2019 legislation expanded the authorized customer base, likely in an attempt to bring in more revenue. As it stands now, the newest patrons authorized to shop at Commissaries around the world include:

  • Veterans with service-connected disabilities
  • Purple Heart recipients
  • Veterans who are former Prisoners of War
  • Designated caregivers of eligible veterans

The Defense Commissary Agency

Headquartered at Fort Lee, Virginia, DeCA manages an army of facilities that are spread all over the world. The agency employs over 13,000 people at its 236 stores that operate in 13 countries. Of these employees, over 32% are military spouses.

In addition to the savings at the register, DeCA has other initiatives aimed at improving wellness and battling food insecurity.

One of these initiatives includes dietician-approved meal plans and recipes that are posted on the Commissary website. They are even broken down into weekly shopping lists and offer an entire month’s worth of family dinner meals.

Another DeCA initiative is called a “dietician-approved fueling station” program. This program established stations at 174 commissaires in 2021, and they provide balanced and healthy meals that are prepackaged. Their purpose is to combat the fast-food diet consumed everyday by service members and their families.

Accessing the Commissary Without an DoD ID

So, most commissaries are located on military installations. Moreover, most veterans lose their DoD issued ID cards when they leave the service, which can make accessing the commissary challenging in some places.

As reported by the American Legion, the current solution is the Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC), which is issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans with service connected disabilities, Purple Heart recipients, or former POWs, must have a VHIC to access the Commissary. Make sure that it carries the appropriate designation (POW, Purple Heart, etc).

In order to get a VHIC, veterans will need to enroll in VA health care. The VHIC is your proof of enrollment in VA care, and you won’t get one unless you register. Believe it or not, many veterans do not know they can and should enroll in VA health care.

I retired in 2014 with a service-connected disability, but I didn’t enroll in VA health care until late 2018. I honestly thought it was automatic. So, if you fall into any of those categories, then I encourage you to get your VHIC by enrolling in VA care.

RELATED: VA Enrollment May Become Automatic

Closing Thoughts

I was a military brat growing up, and I joined the service as soon as I finished high school. I have tons of memories from the commissaries and PXs of my youth.

It is great to see that the equal-access legislation was approved, and I definitely agree that our disabled veterans deserve access to these on-base benefits.

I am also an advocate for VA health care for all veterans. Sure, it’s not Johns Hopkins quality, but it’s lifetime medical care for the issues and injuries you sustained while serving. And with health care costs being what they are these days, why would anyone turn down the medical care they’ve earned?

I encourage all veterans: take advantage of the benefits that are available to you! Whether it’s health care, shopping, education, or anything. You deserve to access any and every benefit available.

 

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Healing for Combat Veterans with Wild Ops

Wild Ops: Healing for Combat Veterans

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” – Douglas MacArthur

America’s wars have permanently scarred the souls who have fought through them and survived. Every warrior who returns home from the crucible of battle is forever changed. For them, the world will never be the same.

The Impact of War on Veterans

A soldier does not choose when and where to fight in the grand scale of war. Politics is often the genesis of armed conflict, which inevitably lands our troops on someone else’s soil. Once the battle has begun, opposing forces work tirelessly to gain and maintain the momentum of battle.

To do so requires great sacrifice on the part of the warfighter. Losing sleep is expected. Losing another soldier in battle is heartbreaking. Losing the war can crush a man’s soul. Add on the toxic exposures of burning human waste and other refuse, and you have a recipe for lifelong struggle, both physically and mentally. This is the reward many soldiers are left with when returning home.

Combat veterans who survive the battlefield soon realize that the war will never leave them. We struggle with thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, isolation, and a whole host of issues that society can never fully understand.

The Wild Ops Program

Wild Ops is a veteran-owned non-profit organization designed to help fellow combat veterans transition back into civilian life after returning home from war. Through faith-based programs, Wild Ops brings support and healing to the wounds that others cannot see.

Wild Ops seeks to help those veterans who are isolated from society by having them participate in outdoor adventures with other veterans. Those veterans in isolation may be surrounded by family and friends, but they are choosing to face the emotional and mental stress of combat on their own.

The mission of every adventure is to bring about healing for the unique scars borne by every warrior. Using the outdoors as a common ground, Wild Ops leads veterans on trips that include hunting and fishing while enjoying the company of others who understand the pain and suffering faced by combat veterans.

Program Information

Each adventure within the Wild Ops program accommodates a maximum of 10 combat-wounded veterans. The programs last anywhere from 5 to 20 days, with some being more extreme than others when it comes to the wilderness setting.

These adventures are open to U.S. combat veterans of all eras and conflicts who have been injured in combat operations.

The Application Process

An applicant must submit an honest and thorough examination of their experiences. This can be challenging for some, as discussing the details of their wartime experiences can unleash some hidden emotions. Once an application is submitted with the required documentation (a DD214/LES + a state or military ID), the folks at Wild Ops will conduct a phone interview.

The phone interview allows the organization to gain a better understanding of your condition and experiences. Each applicant will be carefully considered based on the merit of the application, not on the order the applications were received.

The Wild Ops Application is the first step to take.

Program Costs

There is no cost to participants in any of the Wild Ops adventures. The funding necessary comes from generous donations of those who support the Wild Ops mission. All expenses, to include travel, meals, licenses, permits and equipment, are covered for every combat wounded participant.

There is, however, a fully refundable “hold my spot” deposit of $150. Every applicant, whether they’re selected or not, gets this deposit back. The purpose behind the deposit is simply to hold the spot of anyone who is selected to participate.

You can also choose to donate the deposit, in which case your deposit will be used to fund the organization’s mission.

More Information About Wild Ops

To contact Wild Ops for more information, use the Contact Wild Ops webform, or call (877) 851-8650.

You can also find Wild Ops on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest.

If you’re interested, you can Donate to Wild Ops to support the healing of our nation’s combat-wounded veterans. 

 

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