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.

 

The Yellow Ribbon Program

The Yellow Ribbon Program is a partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and participating schools. It helps qualifying veterans and dependents who must pay higher out-of-state tuition, or higher private school, overseas school, or graduate tuition and fees. This program is offered to those who are eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Not all schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, so your first step as a prospective student is to learn whether or not the option is available to you.

Who is Eligible For The Yellow Ribbon Program?

Only those who qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill at the 100% level can take advantage of Yellow Ribbon options where available. At least one of the following qualifying criteria must be true:

  • The applicant has served at least 36 months on active duty with an honorable discharge, or;
  • The applicant was awarded a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and has an honorable discharge, or;
  • The applicant served for at least 30 continuous days on or after September 11, 2001, and was discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability, or
  • The applicant is a dependent using transferred benefits transferred, or;
  • The applicant is a Fry Scholar
  • Starting August 1, 2022, active duty service members are eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program if they qualify at the 100% level.

If you are approved for Yellow Ribbon funds at one school but choose to transfer to another, the new school must also take part in the program and approve you for the program. If you decide to take fewer courses, the amount of funding you receive may be adjusted accordingly.

Yellow Ribbon Program Requirements For Schools

As mentioned above, not all schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. In order to do so the school must meet all the below:

  • The school participates in Yellow Ribbon
  • The school hasn’t run out of Yellow Ribbon funds for the class time specified
  • The school has certified your enrollment with the Department of Veterans Affairs
  • The school has provided the VA with its Yellow Ribbon Program information

How To Apply For Yellow Ribbon Benefits

The first step toward being approved for the Yellow Ribbon Program is applying for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. You should apply online at VA.gov, by phone at 888-442-4551, or in person at a VA Regional Office. Once you apply and are approved you will get the documentation you need to submit to your school.

You may be required to submit the documents and apply for Yellow Ribbon through a college admission office or registrar. Wherever you are directed, be sure to ask about applying for Yellow Ribbon, this financial assistance for veterans is not automatically applied for on your behalf.

There may be a waiting time while your school makes a determination about your application. One thing that creates this wait? The school must ensure it has not used up its supply of Yellow Ribbon funds. The school decides how much to offer, and will be in touch with its decision.

How Much Will I Receive?

The VA official site states that the total funds available to each student may vary from college to college; the nature of your program may dictate how much is offered. For example, some schools might offer more Yellow Ribbon assistance to graduate students than to undergrads, and more funds for those in doctoral programs than either of the other two.

Or all assistance may be offered at the same level. It all depends on the school. That is one reason to shop around for the right institution–one that has what you need academically and financially.

What To Know About Yellow Ribbon Benefits

Yellow Ribbon funds are not available to those attending school on the Montgomery GI Bill.

Those who qualify for the Yellow Ribbon program must have a 100% benefit level for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Those who did not serve enough time in uniform to qualify for the 100% benefit level are not eligible.

Yellow Ribbon money can be used to pay for “any” mandatory fees, but the actual application of your Yellow Ribbon funds may depend on the specific agreement the VA has with your school.

The VA will determine how much Yellow Ribbon money you need by reviewing any financial aid you may already have specifically for paying tuition and fees. That amount would be subtracted from the total amount charged by the college. Once that is accomplished, the school’s Yellow Ribbon contributions are calculated and the VA matches that contribution.

When you enroll in Yellow Ribbon you are automatically entered into it the following year, assuming all the following are true:

  • You must make “acceptable progress” toward completing the program based on your school’s criteria;
  • You must remain enrolled in the school without a break as per that school’s policies;
  • You must have some remaining Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

If you need assistance navigating the Yellow Ribbon Program, contact your school’s registrar or campus veterans services office.

Military News This Week: July 8 2022

Here’s a roundup of some of the important military news stories from the last week affecting currently serving troops, military families, and veterans. These are not necessarily breaking news items, information on military operations, or developments in hardware or tech. The stories we bring you here affect military families and are not necessarily focused on the “tip of the spear” so to speak.

Military News For Friday, July 8, 2022

The New York Times reports that there’s a bipartisan effort to restore a sea-launched nuclear missile program (a weapons system President Joe Biden tried to cancel) to the U.S. defense budget. Critics of the system say it is redundant and potentially destabilizing.

When the President was campaigning for office, he ran on a platform that included lowering the nation’s nuclear stockpile or at least the DoD’s dependence on it. Some critics of current U.S. nuclear policy point to a lack of a “no first use” doctrine for U.S. nuclear operations as a problem.

Politico.com reports some on the House Appropriations Committee sided with the President on the new cruise missile but notes the committee is “likely to put pressure on appropriators” when talking about compromises in the defense budget for the program.

Navy Improves Sexual Assault Policies

The Department of the Navy has taken a stand; those who report sexual assault will no longer be punished themselves for “minor misconduct” according to Navy Times. How does this help?

A sailor who is sexually assaulted by another service member cannot be punished for infractions like underage drinking where such charges might normally apply. Other scenarios where the new rules apply–the sexual assault was involved during an unprofessional relationship with a superior, and situations where the victim was in violation of curfew or other orders.

Those who come forward to report a sexual assault will not be penalized for these activities under the new rules; the Navy’s priority is to support the victim. That does not mean the Navy won’t refer sexual assault victims to substance abuse counseling if the chain of command thinks it is warranted, but such counseling is not punitive.

PCS Season Could Be Getting Better

Army.mil reports U.S. Transportation Command and the U.S. Army Sustainment Command have taken aggressive moves to make Permanent Change of Station moves more efficient. Since May of last year, efforts to improve areas such as how military members will interact with contractors such as moving companies, and simplifying household goods claims processes.

Simpler claims are further enhanced by recent changes to the deadlines for such claims. If you have had household goods damaged, destroyed, or lost by a contractor you now have 180 days to file a claim as opposed to 75 days under previous guidelines.

Do It Yourself PCS moves, sometimes known as “DITY” moves are now reimbursed up to 100% of the actual cost of the move.

RELATED: PCS and Moving Discounts for Military and MyMilitaryBenefits’ PCS-related article center

DoD Begins Early Childhood Education Curriculum

The Defense Department announced the start of its early childhood education curriculum called, Early Learning Matters. Developed in partnership with Purdue University, the program is the first early childhood education curriculum created for the Department of Defense child development program.

This program is being pilot-tested at select base Child Development Centers and allows CDC workers to “customize the learning experience to each child based on their individual developmental needs.” according to a DoD press release.

If you are interested in this program, reach out to your nearest Child Development Center to learn if that location is using Early Learning Matters

VA Expands Donor Care And Support

The Department of Veterans Affairs now offers expanded help–“live donor support”–for those who wish to donate organs or bone marrow to veterans who need transplant operations. As of July 1, 2022, VA support for these donors will include initial screenings, tests, and any studies needed to qualify a potential donor. The VA also provides support for care and services needed for the donation procedure.

In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs now offers post-donation follow-up services to help the donor recover from the procedure. Some financial benefits are also possible including reimbursement for “necessary travel” and lodging for both the donor and a “needed attendant”.

One major development in this new support is the notion of informed consent; the donor has the right to revoke that consent at any time (and for any reason) before the procedure. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency receives well over 3,000 referrals for transplants and performs nearly 500 procedures a year related to “solid organ” and bone marrow transplants.

Anti-Vax Army Reserve Troops Face Punishment

Military Times reports that as of the end of June 2022, 12% of the Army Reserve had not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Anti-vax troops who do not comply with the Army’s vaccination mandates are not allowed to drill or participate in weekend exercises. The Army has gone on record stating it will discharge vaccine refusers, but at press time no information is available on how soon those proceedings might start for Guard/Reserve personnel.

COVID-19 vaccines have been widely available for some time and are used by literally millions of people; COVID-19 vaccine deniers choose to ignore this. But those in uniform won’t be able to escape the Army mandate for the vaccination or the consequences of refusing it.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

The 78th Anniversary of the GI Bill

Wednesday, June 22, 2022, marked the 78th anniversary of the GI Bill, which was enacted in 1944 to support those returning home from World War Two. The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a press release in honor of the anniversary, noting its impact over the years. “The G.I. Bill has come a long way” since its debut, the press release states, adding, “VA continues to seek ways to meet the needs of Veterans and improve their G.I. Bill experience.”

The GI Bill has had a long and at times complicated history, and is still one of the most popular and important VA benefits offered today. Some 25 million veterans and their families have taken advantage of this VA education benefit.

The GI Bill got its start as a veteran-only option for those returning home from one war. Today it has been expanded to include active duty, Guard/Reserve, and even options for dependents and spouses to consider.

A Brief History of the GI Bill

The 1944 GI Bill, then known as the GI Bill of Rights, included things not found in today’s version. Those old options included loans for veteran-owned businesses, loans for farms, and the option to draw unemployment compensation.

The GI Bill of Rights was created for veterans only. No GI Bill benefits at that time were offered to those still on active duty or to dependents. The program was incredibly popular with some sources estimating about $4 billion in total GI Bill benefits offered to approximately nine million veterans in a five-year period starting in 1944.

The original GI Bill of Rights was not offered to all who served; just those who served during World War Two. When the Korean War had more service members returning home from yet another conflict, legislation called the Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 extended the GI Bill to Korean War veterans.

Enter the 1980s

Big changes came in the 1980s thanks to the efforts of former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie Montgomery, who revamped the GI Bill of Rights to include a variety of features such as making the GI Bill an opt-in during Basic Training,

Trainees paid $100 a month for a year, after which they could qualify for a much larger matching contribution from the DoD. There was a time limit for the benefits after retirement or separation from military service, and there was no housing stipend offered.

This overhaul of the GI Bill of Rights became known as the Montgomery GI Bill after its creator and required both an honorable discharge and a high school diploma/GED. An important development of the GI Bill during this time was the creation of a Guard/Reserve version of the Montgomery GI Bill.

The VA official site says those eligible for this version had to meet certain criteria including a six-year commitment in the Selected Reserve, “signed after June 30, 1985” with additional requirements for officers.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill

When the VA official site announced the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which took effect in August of 2009, it did so knowing there was much anticipation about key features of the new VA education benefit. One of the most important of those was the ability to draw a housing stipend while attending classes, and another critical update involved the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits to a spouse or college-age dependent child.

Important features include but are not limited to:

  • Up to 36 months of education entitlement;
  • Eligible for use at colleges, universities, trade schools, on-the-job training
  • Payment of tuition;
  • Payment of certain fees;
  • A monthly housing stipend equivalent to an E-5 basic allowance for housing (BAH) payable for the zip code of the eligible school;
  • Books / Supplies Stipend ($1000 per year maximum).

This new GI Bill was intended for veterans with active duty service who served on or after September 11, 2001. The Post 9/11 GI Bill increased educational benefits above and beyond tuition alone.

The new GI Bill also included an option to switch from the old Montgomery GI Bill to the new Post 9/11 version. A choice was required, once the choice was made it was irreversible.

The Forever GI Bill

Some of the most important changes to the GI Bill program came in 2017 thanks to the passage of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act. It was promoted as the largest expansion of veteran benefits in roughly a decade, and the GI Bill benefitted from the Act in a number of ways:

  • The Forever GI Bill offers the benefit to all Purple Heart recipients regardless of time served;
  • No more time limit for using GI Bill benefits for qualifying service members discharged on or after January 1, 2013;
  • New protections for GI Bill recipients attending a school that closes before a degree program is completed;
  • New GI Bill options for Reservists such as more lenient time-in-service requirements.

Recent developments have further enhanced GI Bill benefits. Servicemembers now have the option to transfer VA education benefits to a qualifying foster child or ward thanks to the VA Transfer Of Entitlement program. In order to qualify, you must apply using  Application for Family Member to Use Transferred Benefits (VA Form 22-1990E).

You can submit this to any VA Regional Office. This is a process for those still serving on active duty. Once you leave active duty you can still submit a written request to modify a transfer via milConnect.

It should be noted that the Forever GI Bill is NOT a separate program from the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Instead, it enhances the Post 9/11 program and adds to it. You won’t apply for a Forever GI Bill option, you’ll use Post 9/11 GI Bill options that have been improved by the updated legislation.

Transferring Your GI Bill Benefits

The Post 9/11 GI Bill allows those who are still on active duty to transfer their education benefits to spouses or college-age children who are enrolled in DEERS. To qualify for the benefits transfer, the active duty member must have a minimum of six years time-in-service and must agree to a four-year military commitment. VA rules for this transfer have included the following:

  • When you meet the six-year time-in-service requirement, you are permitted to transfer some or all of your unused Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.
  • The Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security reserves the right to limit how many months you may transferable.
  • Transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits are available for spouses, one or more dependent children, or any combination of spouse and child.

A Word About The Digital GI Bill

In March 2022, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced something called the Digital GI Bill. This is the VA effort to modernize the GI Bill program including switching to a digital platform and improving benefits.

The VA official site says of this modernization effort, “…this platform will enable VA to call, email, text and chat with GI Bill beneficiaries, grant the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) immediate access to beneficiary records and respond to questions from colleges and universities instantaneously”.

It’s described as a “multi-year effort” and won’t happen overnight. That said, a VA contract for this project was awarded in March 2022 and the plan is currently underway. This effort is funded in part by some $243 million the VA received under the CARES Act during the global pandemic. Full details about the upgrades are not available at press time, but the VA says it desires feedback from students, administrators, and others who may be affected by the changes.

 

 

GI Bill Fact and Fiction

There are some important things to know about using GI Bill benefits; if you haven’t checked your benefits recently you may be surprised to learn that in the last several years, legislation has passed to enhance veteran benefit programs including the GI Bill.

Active duty, Guard/Reserve, and military dependents have all had their benefits altered by legislation in the last five years. To what extent depends greatly on the specific aspect of the law that was changed, but it’s clear the U.S. government doesn’t want these benefits to remain static.

Some of that legislation may sound familiar; the Forever GI Bill, for example, also known as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017. That’s just one bill that improved GI Bill benefits; by the time you read this more legislation could be underway to expand, enhance, and improve veteran education programs such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

GI Bill Fact: You Can Use the GI Bill On Active Duty or After Separation

The most important thing you should consider when deciding whether to use your GI Bill during active duty service? Whether you’re wasting the benefit. You may be able to apply for other tuition assistance from your branch of service, from state or local programs, or even those offered when assigned to a specific military base.

You may not need to use your GI Bill benefit in such cases; talk to an admissions counselor to see what other programs are accepted by that institution–you will be very glad you did.

GI Bill Fiction: All GI Bill Benefits Are the Same

Depending on the “service era” you joined in, your GI Bill benefits may vary greatly. For example, did you enter military service in the early 1990s? Your initial GI Bill option may have been limited to the Montgomery GI Bill, which features no housing stipend and is not transferable to a dependent or spouse.

When the Post 9/11 GI Bill was introduced, all that changed. Dependents and spouses became eligible to have GI Bill benefits transferred to them, and the housing stipend aspect of the Post 9/11 GI Bill further improved the program by taking the financial burden of housing off the veteran during school attendance.

GI Bill Fact: Some Benefits Are Transferable

GI Bill benefits under the Post 9/11 program may be transferable to a spouse or dependent. Transferring means exactly what the word implies; the veteran gives up her benefit so that a spouse or child can use it.

GI Bill Fact: Not All Can Transfer Their GI Bill Benefits

We have already mentioned that those who signed up for the old Montgomery GI Bill cannot transfer their benefit to another, but there are other restrictions to be mindful of. For example, you cannot transfer your benefit to someone who is not enrolled in the military DEERS system identifying those dependents. All beneficiaries must be enrolled in DEERS prior to the transfer. In addition, you can only transfer Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits if you have served a minimum of six years, and have committed to another four years of military service.

Dependents may have other VA resources they can use for education; this includes Chapter 35 benefits. You may qualify for non-GI Bill education assistance from the VA if the following applies to you:

  • You are the spouse or child of a service member who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001, or
  • The service member is missing in action or;
  • The service member was captured in the line of duty or;
  • The service member was detained in the line of duty or;
  • The service member is in treatment for a service-connected “permanent and total disability” according to the VA and is “likely to be discharged” for it.

GI Bill Facts: You Can’t Use Your Benefits Everywhere

Some schools cannot qualify to accept the GI Bill, others may have qualified in the past but have since failed to meet VA standards. Other schools may be in the process of applying to the VA to accept GI Bill payments but have not yet been fully approved.

That means that you may need to shop around a bit more for a school to attend; depending on where you live it may be more or less challenging to find a program that is acceptable to you and that accepts the GI Bill.

Some schools may accept GI Bill funds for some but not all programs; there may not be a degree of standardization in this area. You’ll need to speak to an entrance counselor or veterans’ affairs rep at the college to learn what is possible.

GI Bill Fiction: GI Bill Benefits Are Always Paid On Time

Theoretically, GI Bill payments are supposed to be on a schedule but a number of variables including some that are under the responsibility of the school itself may factor into the timing of your payment for tuition, books, and even the housing stipend. It’s smart to anticipate delays in your GI Bill payment and plan accordingly.

Chances are good that the school you attend is quite used to these variations, but it never hurts to ask what the most current guidance is for dealing with such delays when it comes to tuition and fees.

GI Bill Fiction: You MUST Attend Full-Time

GI Bill housing stipends pay the most when you attend full-time, in person. But you can get a reduced benefit for 3/4 time or half-time attendance. You are not required to carry a full course load, but you may generally be required to enroll in a degree-seeking program or that has a specific outcome such as a certification or licensure. Just taking classes without an endgame is generally not supported under the GI Bill program.

GI Bill Fact: You Won’t Always Get Your Full Housing Stipend

Why? Because your benefits are paid based on your actual classroom attendance. If you begin winter break, summer break, or any other absence, your housing stipend is prorated and you will not get the housing payments during those down times.

GI Bill Fact: You Can Change Colleges

If one course of study is not working out for you, it’s possible to transfer to another school and keep using your GI Bill. This will depend on a number of factors including whether or not the new school participates in the program. You may need to further determine if other options such as the Yellow Ribbon Program are supported by the new school.

If you rely on the Yellow Ribbon program to offset the costs of private school attendance the GI Bill doesn’t cover, for example, and your new school does not participate, you’ll need to make other arrangements to cover that part of your tuition.

GI Bill Fact: Start Preparing Early

You may, depending on circumstances, experience delays in your GI Bill application process. It is a very good choice to begin working on your application as early as possible starting with establishing your basic eligibility for the GI Bill. College admissions deadlines may be earlier for the next school year than you realize, it is best to know your application deadlines well in advance so you don’t wind up having to try beating a deadline for paperwork.

You never know what stage your chosen school might be in with respect to the GI Bill. Are they an institution with a standing relationship with the VA? Or is the partnership new? The less experience your school has with GI Bill issues, the more delays you can realistically expect. If you need help determining what a specific school has to offer for veterans who need financial aid (GI Bill and otherwise), contact the college’s admissions department or call the Department of Veterans Affairs directly to learn if the school is currently working with the VA.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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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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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Education Benefit News: REMOTE Act Extends Student Veteran Protection

Education Benefit News: February 2022

The most pressing news for veteran students at this time is that Congress passed the REMOTE Act at the end of December 2021.

The Responsible Education Mitigating Options and Technical Extensions (REMOTE) Act extended provisions of Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 until June 1, 2022. But what does that mean for you, the student veteran?

Full Benefits for Remote Students

Remember when everything was shutting down due to COVID-19, and schools that were able to started offering 100% remote learning? Well, the Student Veteran Protection Act ensured that student veterans would be paid the GI Bill BAH portions in-full, even if the classes were taught remotely. Those protections were set to expire on 21 December, 2021, but the REMOTE Act extends those protections until June of 2022.

SEE ALSO: Student Veterans Can Still Get Full GI Bill Benefits Even If Remote

Rounding Out a Program

The REMOTE Act also solidly enshrines the “rounding out” that may impact some students. 

Right now, you may be asking “What is rounding out?” Well, here’s the answer:

When a student’s GI Bill runs out in the last semester of their program, then the VA can provide extra financial assistance, read a “rounding out”, to bring that program to a close without the student incurring any out of pocket tuition expenses. There are three conditions that must be met in order for this provision to apply:

  1. The number of credits a student needs is less than the number of credits that would be considered more than a half-time enrollment for that semester, AND
  2. The student is enrolled in, or has completed, every course required for the completion of the degree or program, AND
  3. The student enrolls in an additional, non-required course where the enrollment in that non-required course raises the enrollment status above the half-time mark.

The effective date of the rounding out provisions was January 1, 2022. So, any enrollments and semesters that meet the criteria above now qualify.

Still Confused?

Still confused? Here’s a personal example:

I am currently working on a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I have completed every course except two: my Thesis Proposal and Thesis Defense. These courses are taken within the same semester, one before the other. By taking only these two courses, I am considered a half-time enrollment.

Incidentally, I have exactly 6 days of GI Bill benefit remaining, so I will run out of regular funding shortly after the next semester begins. If I were to enroll in another class that is not required for my MFA, then I would be eligible for the extended financial assistance from the VA, or the rounding up. Without that extra assistance, I would be responsible for the remaining tuition.

So, I have to choose whether or not I want to add yet another course onto an already heavy workload so I can qualify for the extra assistance. Or, I keep only the two required courses and pay the rest of my tuition out-of-pocket.

Keep in mind, the text of the REMOTE Act says that the VA “may provide” extra assistance, meaning that it is a possibility, not a guarantee.

Believe me when I say that it’s a tough choice to make!

 

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Military Benefit Changes for 2022

Military Benefit Changes for 2022

These are the changes that have been announced so far. Please keep checking back, as we will continue updating new changes to your military benefits for 2022.

TRICARE Updates 2022

TRICARE Pharmacy Network

TRICARE Pharmacy Network will have updates going into 2022. As of December 15th, 2021, Walmart and Sam’s Club will no longer take TRICARE. CVS will be added after being away from the network for the last five years.

 

>> Have questions about you or your spouse’s military benefits? We’ve partnered with the Veterans Education Project to help find the answers you need. Find the answers to your benefits questions today!

 

TRICARE Premiums

TRICARE premiums will change for reservists, retired reserves, and some military family members. 

Monthly premiums for TRICARE Reserve Select will be going down. For individuals, they will drop 1% from $47.20 to $46.70. For families, it will go down 3.8% from $238.99 to $229.99. 

Monthly premiums for Retired Reserve will be going up. For Individuals, they will be changing from $484.83 to $502.32. For families, they will be changing from $1,165 to $1,206.59. 

TRICARE Young Adult monthly premiums will also be going up. TRICARE Young Adult Select Premiums will increase from $257 to $265, and TRICARE Young Adult Prime Premiums will increase from $459 to $512. 

Continued Health Care Benefit Program quarterly premiums are also going up. For the member, the amount is changing from $1,599 to $1,654, and for member and family, it is changing from $3,605 to $4,079. 

You should also check on the TRICARE fees that may have changed for 2022 on their website.

COLA Increases

COLA will have an increase of 5.9% in 2022. This is a big jump from the 2021 increase of 1.3%. The last time COLA was close to this percentage was in 2008 with an increase of 5.8%. 

COLA increases are based on the increase in the CPI-W, from the 3rd quarter of 2020 through the third quarter of 2021. Increases can change year to year. The last few years have seen 0.3% in 2017, 2.0% in 2018, 2.8% in 2019, and 1.6% in 2020. Military retirees, those who receive disability payments, or other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, federal retirees, as well as Social Security recipients, will all see a 5.9% increase in their monthly payments.

Retirement Pay

When it comes to retirement pay, it is important to keep in mind that since the increase for the year is calculated differently than active duty pay, the raises can seem a little different based on the year. Based on the 5.9% increase, in 2022 you would receive $59 for every $1,000 in government benefits you receive. If a veteran is receiving around $2,000 a month as retirement pay, they would see an increase of $118 a month.

A veteran who entered military service after July 31, 1986, has had the option of going with the “Career Status Bonus” or (CSB)/REDUX instead of the “High 3-year average” option with regards to retirement pay. This means that they would have received $30,000 during their 15th year of service and will see a reduced retirement rate until they are 62 years old. This also means that their COLA increase is reduced by 1%, which would change the amount of the increase they would see in 2022.

VA Disability

VA Disability payments would also increase in 2022. A veteran with a 60% rating would see about a $51 a month increase, while a veteran with a 100% rating would see about an $85 a month increase. The amount they would receive depends on their rating as well as their veteran-dependent status. The rate for 2022 would be 5.9% and is based on COLA rates.

Social Security Payments

According to the Social Security Administration, the average monthly Social Security benefit in June 2021 was $1,555 for the retired worker. Based on this, the average beneficiary would see an increase of $87 in 2022.

3.0% Military Pay Increase

A 2.7% pay raise has been proposed for 2022. This is a little less than last year which was 3.0%. For junior enlisted, this would be an increase of around $768 a year.

The main guideline for determining military pay raises comes from the quarterly report of the US Employment Cost Index (ECI) which is put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The fiscal 2022 NDAA will need to be passed and then the 2.7% raise will take effect as of Jan 1, 2022.

BAH 2022 Rates

BAH is the Basic Allowance for Housing. The 2022 BAH rates have not been posted yet and the DOD’s BAH calculator still needs to be updated. You can use this to find out how much you will be bringing home for BAH in 2022 once updated. Remember, if your rate goes down you are grandfathered into the old rate unless you move or change rank.

BAH is based on your rank, dependent status, and geographic location. BAH is intended to cover 95% of your housing costs. This % can change each year and was 99% just a few years ago. Your rates are based on your duty station zip code.

Your new BAH rate will go into effect on January 1st and you will see it in your January 15, 2022 paycheck.

The proposed BAH increase will need to be approved by Congress and the President. That being said, individual rates are based on the cost of living in your exact location. 2.7% is being proposed for 2022. In 2021, BAH was 2.9%.

BAS 2022 Rates

BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsistence) 2022 rates have not been updated yet but 2.3% is proposed. BAS had a 3.7% increase in 2021. Rates have not changed all that much in the last few years since they are based on the cost of food.

BAS is meant to be used to pay for food for enlisted and officers. It is only intended to help pay for food, not to cover all the costs. The rate also does not change based on dependents because the money is not meant to cover food for family members.

The increase will take place on January 1st and you will see it on your January 15th, 2022 paychecks.

We will update as more 2022 military benefits changes are announced!

 

>> Have questions about you or your spouse’s military benefits? We’ve partnered with the Veterans Education Project to help find the answers you need. Find the answers to your benefits questions today!

 

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VA Funds Adaptive Sports

VA Funds Adaptive Sports

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs provides grant funding to organizations that offer adaptive sports and therapeutic recreation for veterans with disabilities and service members. In 2020, nearly $15 million were awarded to organizations serving approximately 13,000 veterans and service members. Programs provided services such as cycling, kayaking, archery, skiing, and equine therapy.

Why Adaptive Sports?

“Adaptive sport” describes a sport tailored or created for people living with disabilities. The concept expanded significantly when used to rehabilitate veterans after World War II. In a systematic review of the benefits, harms, barriers, and drivers of participation in adaptive sports, an expert panel found that although adaptive sports have potential, they need to be studied more rigorously to better understand their benefits.

Adaptive sports have long been used as a therapeutic tool. They have helped people come to terms with injuries or illnesses. They promote recovery in the following ways:

  • Physical activity reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, supports healthy weight, bolsters the recovery process, and promotes health
  • The focus shifts from disability to ability
  • Engaging with a team creates a sense of belonging and support
  • Competition can ignite the warrior spirit, empowering people to achieve goals despite challenges
  • These activities address the whole person and promote mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical well-being

Stories Are Powerful

Major Ivan Castro’s powerful recovery story is detailed in the book Fighting Blind: A Green Beret’s Story of Extraordinary Courage. After being blinded by an explosion in Iraq, he adapted to marathon running by tethering himself to friends with a shoestring. Setting the goal of running a marathon gave Castro a sense of purpose and a goal that he could control.

For Castro, running renewed a sense of purpose.

Adaptive Sports Grant Program

The Adaptive Sports Grant Program is managed by the National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events Office (NVSP&SE). The NVSP&SE strives to improve veterans’ and disabled service members’ quality of life through adaptive sports and therapeutic arts programs.

In 2020, 116 organizations received grant funding. A small handful of them is described here. For a complete list, read VA Adaptive Sports Grant Recipients 2020.

  • AmpSurf has offered Adaptive Surf Therapy and other outdoor activities since 2003 to provide mentally and physically rewarding experiences.
  • The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center hosts winter and summer events to support recovery and healing through skiing and camping.
  • Challenge Alaska offers hockey and cycling sports programs specifically designed for veterans with disabilities, injured active-duty service members, and their families.
  • Life Waters helps veterans, first responders, and civilians by offering recreational water therapy through scuba diving. The program is operated by a team of medical professionals.
  • Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is a nationwide fly-fishing program that offers physical and emotional rehabilitation to disabled veterans.
  • Shamrock Reins offers Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy programs and deployment support to service members and their families.

Related [Outdoor Recreation for Veterans: Free and Discounted Options]

Grants are Necessary

The increase in adaptive sports programs will continue to grow. These programs offer value to service members and veterans. When the benefits are clearly described by research, these programs have a greater potential to reach more people. By providing Adaptive Sports Grant Funding, the VA is supporting the use of adaptive sports in recovery.

 

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3 Things to Know About the VA’s New Electronic Health Record

The VA’s New Electronic Health Record: What You Need to Know

On October 24th, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented its new electronic health record (EHR) system at selected sites in the Pacific Northwest. The system is designed to improve how physicians store and manage patient information concerning visits, test results, prescriptions, and other crucial information. If it changes for our care providers, rest assured that it will change the way we access our health data online as well.

EHR Launch Sites

Currently, the VA launched the new system at:

  • Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Spokane, Washington
  • Community clinics in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
  • Community clinics in Sandpoint, Idaho
  • Libby, Montana
  • Wenatchee, Washington.

The patients at these clinics will be the first in the nation to access the new EHR via the My VA Health portal. This new portal is designed as a complement to the VA’s current portal, My HealtheVet, and will allow Veterans to manage their appointments, prescription refills, medical records, and communications with their providers.

The implementation of the new EHR system is expected to happen over a ten year period ending in 2028, so most veterans will not see immediate changes in how they go about managing their healthcare resources. As the new EHR system is implemented there are three things veterans should be aware of.

How will the VA’s Electronic Health Record Modernization (EMHR) program impact me?

The VA’s EMHR is a large-scale effort to synchronize the health information from the VA, the Department of Defense (DoD), the U.S. Coast Guard, and numerous community care providers into a single, modernized management system.

This new system will replace the current electronic health record, known as the Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA). The new system developed by Cerner Corp, which is a third-party information technology company specializing in the integration of healthcare and IT.

The primary goal of this new EHR system is to create a “paperless transition from receiving care as a service member through DoD to receiving care as a veteran through VA.”

When will veterans start using My VA Health?

Once your local VA medical center or clinic transitions to the new EHR, you will begin using the new system, which will be accessible through VA.gov or My HealtheVet. Until that time, you will continue using the older system.

Once the VA launches the My VA Health website, veterans will be able to use their current credentials to sign in. This ensures that veterans who have received care at multiple facilities will have access to all of their records.

Ideally, the VA would like to make their website, VA.gov, the single place where veterans go for their health needs. The VA plans to provide resources to walk veterans through these changes as the new EHRM system expands to their respective facilities.

How will veterans at the initial sites access the patient portal?

Veterans who access their medical care through the above named launch sites in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, will log into either the My HealtheVet or the VA.gov websites with one of the following methods:

  • Premium DS Logon account
  • Premium My HealtheVet account
  • Verifiedme account

Once logged in, veterans will be directed to My VA Health regarding the care at their clinics. (If you have a basic or advanced My HealtheVet account, use this guide to upgrade to a premium account.)

For more information about how to use My VA Health, call 800-962-1024 anytime.

(Image courtesy of Stan Valynkin via 123rf.com)

 

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How to File VA Disability Claims

VA Disability Claims: How to File

Going through the process of filing a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is notoriously difficult, especially when you go at it alone. I was fortunate enough to have some great guidance when I filed my VA paperwork during the retirement process.

Here are some basic steps to help you understand how to file your VA disability claim a little easier.

Service-connected VA Disability Claim

The injury or illness you claim must be service-connected, meaning that it was caused by your active service, or it was made worse during your time in the service.

In order to verify your claim, you must have some sort of medical documentation showing that you were treated for the issue while on active duty. This most commonly comes from your medical records, but it can also be sick call slips (signed by the physician), quarters slips (also signed), and in some rare cases it can be documents that accompany prescription medication. The idea being, why would you have a prescription if you didn’t need treatment. The reason this is rare is because some medications are used for multiple conditions; so, it is uncommon for a prescription to be used as a reason for your claim. But it can happen.

Existing Disability

It must be medically documented that you have an existing disability. This will likely also come from your medical records, but more specifically from a physical evaluation.

During a physical, service members are evaluated for their fitness to serve, and if something arises from the evaluation then it will be documented.

Physicals are also the best time to bring up issues, pain, or ailments you’ve recently endured. This includes medical treatments and examinations that occur within one year of discharge. 

Making the Connection

In order to connect the disability with your military service, there MUST be some documented connection. This, again, refers primarily to your medical records. But it can also include other supporting documentation like your DD-214 or a letter of diagnosis from your physician stating that they are connected.

VA Disability Claim Submission

Once you’ve collected all of the medical documents showing that you have a disability, and that it is service-connected, you will submit your claim to the VA.

VA Review Process

Once they receive it, the VA will conduct an initial review of your claim. Three things happen in this step.

      1. The VA may ask for further evidence from you, your healthcare provider, government agencies, or other sources as needed.
      2. The VA reviews the evidence.
      3. They make a decision.

 

>> Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

The VA’s Decision on Your Claim

Once the VA makes a decision regarding your claim, they will send it to you in the U.S. mail. It can take 7 to 10 days for your packet to arrive. The VA will not call you and tell you their decision (just like the IRS won’t call you and ask for money in the form of iTunes gift cards!)

Be advised, as of January 2021, the average number of days it takes to complete disability-related claims is 154 days

The (Possible) VA Disability Claims Appeal

If your claim is received and you are awarded compensation, congratulations! If your claim is denied, there are three options available for a decision review:

Supplemental Claim – this is an option of you have new and relevant evidence that was not included in your original claim.

      1. Higher-Level Review – You may ask for a more senior reviewer to look at your case; however, you may not add new evidence with this option.
      2. Board Appeal – If the other two options don’t pan out, your only other course of action is to appeal the decision to a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

Veterans Service Officer

There are many organizations that can help veterans file their claims. Some are attorneys, some are claim agents. However, the best guidance you can get is from a Veterans Service Officer (VSO). 

VSOs are trained and certified to assist in the VA claims and appeals process, and they are available to help with your VA-related needs. In order to become a VSO, someone must:

  1. Pass an exam
  2. Pass a background check
  3. Take continuing education courses

Be advised that no individual or organization may charge you a fee to help you file your initial application for benefits. It is only after the VA makes a decision that service agents or attorneys may charge you for their services.

Finding a VSO

There are two ways to find an accredited representative or VSO:

  1. Log onto eBenefits and search by state/territory, ZIP code, or the organization’s name.
  2. Search the VA Office of the General Counsel’s list of VA-recognized organizations and VA-accredited individuals by name, city, state, or ZIP.

Next Steps…

If you are considering filing a claim with the VA, I encourage you to check out the VA Disability Compensation page. This page contains all the information you will need to determine your eligibility and to file a claim. 

I also recommend that you seek assistance when filing your initial claim because it is already a long process. Mistakes or missing paperwork will make it even longer. Find a VSO to assist you.

Be patient. Thousands of service members transition every year. Most of them are filing disability claims, which is why the VA gets backlogged. Just expect that it can take up to 6 months to hear anything after you’ve filed your claim. It could also take longer. If you use a VSO, they will contact the VA regarding your claim if need be.

(Image courtesy of MedstockPhotos via Shutterstock)

 

>> Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

 

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Legislation Improves VA Caregiver Programs: TEAM Veteran Caregivers Act

Legislation Improves VA Caregiver Programs: TEAM Veteran Caregivers Act

The VA offers many resources for caregivers of veterans. These programs support some of the most important members of veteran’s clinical care teams – caregivers. Reports of veterans and caregivers losing access to these valuable resources have recently led to the Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures (TEAM) for Veteran Caregivers Act.

The TEAM for Veterans Caregivers Act became law on December 31st, 2020, and requires the VA to formally recognize caregivers in the electronic health records of veterans. Caregivers covered by the act include those participating in the following programs.

  • Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
  • Program of General Caregiver Support Services

Approximately a quarter of the 9 million veterans that the VA serves each year require caregiver support. Under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC), eligible caregivers receive training, a monthly stipend for providing home health services to the veteran, and additional important benefits like health insurance coverage and mental health services.

The PCAFC was originally designed only for caregivers of post 9/11 veterans. It is currently undergoing expansion to include caregivers of veterans from all eras. Losing these important benefits threatens the livelihood of veterans and is synonymous with job loss for caregivers.

RELATED: VA Caregiver Program Expanded

Caregivers Dropped from Programs

In 2018, NPR covered veterans whose caregivers were unexpectedly dropped to a lower level of support or from caregiver programs altogether. The stories of these families highlight the importance of caregiver programs to veterans and their caregivers. In NPR’s coverage of their stories, Quil Lawrence explained that caregivers in these VA programs provide home health services that would cost the VA millions of dollars.

After losing VA caregiver program benefits, these caregivers continued providing care for the veteran. Caregivers are most often spouses or other family members functioning as around-the-clock caregivers of veterans. These families need and deserve the benefits offered by VA caregiver programs.

RELATED: VA Support and Resources for Caregivers

TEAM for Veterans Caregivers Act

The TEAM for Veterans Caregivers Act improves transparency and communication preventing unexpected loss of benefits. The act takes the following steps to improve the VA Caregiver Programs:

  • Formally recognizes caregivers. By ensuring all caregivers are included in the veteran’s electronic medical record, communication between caregivers and the VA is improved.
  • Standardizing notification letters. The act requires the VA to use standardized letters to notify veterans and caregivers of decisions. It also requires the VA to provide an explanation with information that would be necessary to file an appeal.
  • Benefits extended. The act authorizes the VA to temporarily extend benefits after a veteran is determined to be no longer eligible for the program.

These steps prevent the sudden loss of benefits experienced by the caregivers in the NPR stories. Formally recognizing caregivers and standardizing notification letters improves communication. Including important information in notification letters and temporarily extending benefits allow veterans and caregivers to appeal decisions that do not accurately reflect their situations.

The VA offers a long list of caregiver support programs and resources. The efficacy in which they are delivered is undergoing steps to improve and expand these programs to meet the needs of veterans and caregivers. The VA is the largest hospital system in the United States and it is not a perfect system. The TEAM for Veterans Caregivers Act moves the needle in the right direction.

 

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Nursing Students: Paid VA Nurse Residency

Paid Nurse Residency at the VA, Part of the VALOR Program

Nursing school is hard, passing the NCLEX is not easy, and working as a nurse is as challenging as it is rewarding. What might be the most difficult years of nursing are the transition years between student nurse and competent nurse.

Better Prepared to Transition From Student to Competent Nurse

The VA Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR) program supports nurses during these transition years. The program bolsters the training of nursing school by offering additional time to hone clinical skills that are critically important to a successful nursing career. In an interview for the VA, Jessica Crabtree explained that her participation in the VALOR program prepared her as a nursing student for a seamless transition into a full-time nursing role.

Who is eligible for VALOR?

Glenda Fuller, a VALOR program specialist, explained in the Veterans Affairs & Military Medicine Outlook Spring 2020 that nursing students in accredited baccalaureate nursing programs who have completed their junior year and have earned at least a 3.0 GPA are eligible for the program. This unique residency program involves an 800 hour paid internship in a VA healthcare setting.

Where are VALOR programs available?

VALOR program specialist Glenda Fuller further explained that 124 VA-approved healthcare facilities participate in the VALOR program. Most of these facilities are located in urban settings and the programs receive far more applications than available residency slots, two major challenges of the program Fuller added in the same interview.

Search your local VA health care facility website to find out if a VALOR program is available in your area. The application involves navigating USAJOBs.

[Related: 5 Insider Tips for Navigating USAJOBS]

What are the benefits of participating in the VALOR program?

In addition to her positive experience in the program, Jessica Crabtree continues to benefit from VALOR and her nursing career with the VA.

  • Benefits
  • Job Security
  • Student Loan Assistance
  • Career Advancement
  • Continuing Education Opportunities
  • Work in a Nation-Wide system

Crabtree’s positive experience is shared with 98% of VALOR participants, according to program specialist Glenda Fuller in the Veterans Affairs & Military Medicine Outlook Spring 2020.

What does the VALOR program involve?

VALOR is a recruitment program for VA hospitals with great educational and financial benefits for nursing students. According to a 2014 article in the Federal Practitioner, students write personal reflections and participate in frequent debriefing discussions. Additional experiences include working with other disciplines, observing home health visits, experience in different hospital units, evidence-based projects, and earning certifications like advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), the same article outlines.

Why work at the VA?  Top 10 Reasons to Work at the VA

The VA nursing careers website lists the top 10 reasons to work at the VA. These include:

  • The culture is driven by the values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, and excellence
  • The VA is the largest health care system: over 1,200 facilities
  • Work with cutting-edge and growing technology
  • Support in the form of scholarship programs, tuition reimbursement and student loan repayment programs, and a long list of education and training programs
  • Work-life balance through generous paid days off, sick days, and paid federal holidays
  • High-quality benefits
  • Work on a team of medical professionals focused on caring for veterans
  • Practice nursing in any VA facility with just one license

 

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Fellowship & Career Opportunities at the VA

Presidential Management Fellowship Opportunity at the VA

Have you completed an advanced degree? Are you interested in a career helping veterans?  If your answer to these questions is “yes”, then you should consider applying for the VA’s Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program.

Presidential Management Fellows, an Overview

The PMF is a prestigious leadership development program that spans across the Federal Government and is ideally suited for those holding advanced degrees, and who are at the entry level of their career.

Each year, candidates from a wide variety of academic disciplines compete for these coveted positions. “Candidates have an interest in and a dedication to excellence in the leadership and management of public policies and programs,” states the landing page for the program. The program offers PMFs unique leadership, training, and development opportunities, with the expectation that they will become future leaders of change at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Presidential Management Fellows program falls under the VA Pathways Program.

PMF Program Eligibility & Qualifications

All candidates undergo a rigorous assessment and selection process that measures writing, interpersonal, analytic, and leadership skills. There are multiple steps of the application process, and applicants are highly encouraged to pay close attention to application deadlines.

In general, candidates must be in the process of completing, or have already completed within the past two years, a qualifying advanced degree – masters, law, or doctoral program. The most up-to-date eligibility requirements can be found at www.pmf.gov.

Qualifications vary by individual PMF positions. Job openings are posted online each spring and are available only to PMF finalists and federal employees.

Training and Development

The VA sponsors programs and training forums for all PMFs, with additional training opportunities provided by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other agencies. The training includes 160 hours of formal interactive training, challenging work assignments, and direct feedback on work performance.

As a Presidential Management Fellow, you will create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) for your two-year program, participate in developmental learning opportunities, network with other PMFs, and contribute to the larger mission of the VA, which is to help and care for our nation’s Veterans.

Those who successfully complete the program’s requirements are often eligible for conversion to a full-time position.

Compensation

Okay, up to this point you are probably pretty amped about this opportunity! (I know I am!) But you’re probably wondering, “Will I get paid?”

Yes, all PMFs will receive compensation during their time in the program. Finalists are initially appointed as Fellows at the GS-9, GS-11, or GS-12 grade levels. While actual salaries will vary based on geographic locations, the most current information on the Federal pay scale can be found at the OPM Salary Table website.

PMFs are also eligible for promotion while in the program. So you may start out at one pay grade and advance along the scale within that pay grade; or you may even jump from one pay grade (GS-9) to a higher pay grade (GS-11). Promotions for Fellows are determined by the policies and criteria of the employing agency, the VA in this case.

Benefits

As a Presidential Management Fellow, you will have most of the same benefits available to federal employees. Some of these benefits include:

  • Insurance plans
    • Health
    • Life
    • Dental/Vision
    • Long Term Care
    • Flexible Spending Accounts
  • Tax-deferred Thrift Savings Plan
  • Transit Subsidy
  • Paid Holidays
  • Flexible Work Hours
  • Leave/Paid time off
  • Employee Assistance Program

More information for New/Prospective Employees and the Thrift Savings Plan.

Student Loan Repayment

Participating agencies may offer Finalists and Fellows various student loan programs. You should ask the agency about the program they offer.

In general, Federal agencies are authorized to repay student loans under the Federal Student Loan Repayment Program. The amount paid by the agency is subject to the following maximum limits:

  1. $10,000 per employee, per calendar year
  2. $60,000 in total, per employee

Finalists accepting appointments as Fellows are eligible to receive student loan repayment; but again they are agency specific, and the VA is just one agency participating in the PMF program.

Here’s more information about OPM’s Federal Student Loan Repayment Program.

How to Apply

The PMF application process is refined from year to year, but it is highly structured and very thorough. The PMF website contains the details on the current application process.

Again, pay attention to those application deadlines. The 2021 finalists were just announced a few days ago. The next application window is expected to open in the spring of 2021, just a few months away.

So, if you hold an advanced degree, or are currently in a graduate program, then now is the time to begin preparing your application to the VA’s Presidential Fellows Program.

Good luck!

(Image courtesy of D. Shironosov via 123rf.com)

 

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VA Benefits for Family Members, Survivors, and Family Caregivers

Military Family Members, Survivors, and Family Caregivers VA Benefits

Do you know about all of the VA benefits you and your loved ones may qualify for? This list can help you make sure you’re not missing out on health care, life insurance, or financial assistance. If you’re receiving benefits, there are resources to help you learn more about how to manage those benefits.

Healthcare Benefits

TRICARE

If you’re the family member of an active-duty, retired, or deceased service member, National Guard soldier, Reservist, or Medal of Honor recipient, you may qualify for the TRICARE program which includes comprehensive health coverage, including prescription medicines. Learn more by clicking here.

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

Are you the current or surviving spouse or child of a Veteran with disabilities or a service member who died in the line of duty? If you don’t qualify for TRICARE, you may be able to get health insurance through the  CHAMPVA cost-sharing program.

Find out if you qualify for CHAMPVA and how to apply.

The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers

This program offers support and services for family caregivers of eligible Veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty during certain time periods and meet other eligibility requirements. Learn more about eligibility and how to apply

The Camp Lejeune Family Member Program

If you lived in either U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) in North Carolina with an active-duty Veteran who was your spouse or parent of these places for at least 30 cumulative days from August 1953 through December 1987, you may have had contact with contaminants in the drinking water there which led to the development of certain diseases later on. If you now have one of the related conditions, you may qualify for health care benefits through VA. Find out if you qualify for this program and how to apply

The Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program

If you’re the biological child of a Korean or Vietnam War Veteran and you’ve been diagnosed with spina bifida, you may qualify for benefits. Find out if you qualify and how to apply

The Children of Women Vietnam Veterans Health Care Benefits Program

If you’re the biological child of a woman Vietnam War Veteran and you’ve been diagnosed with certain birth defects, you may qualify for VA health care benefits.Find out if you qualify and how to apply

Pharmacy Benefits

If you qualify for CHAMPVA or the Spina Bifida or Children of Women Vietnam Veterans programs, you can get prescription benefits through your local pharmacy or through our Meds by Mail program. Click here to learn more.

Education

Find out if you’re eligible for VA education benefits for dependents and survivors (also called Chapter 35 benefits) by clicking here.

RELATED: States Offering Free College to Dependents

 

>> Need money for college?  Find scholarships for military spouses and dependents with the CollegeRecon Scholarship Finder.

 

Home Loans & Financial Counseling

To get a VA-backed home loan as the surviving spouse of a Veteran, you’ll need a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to show your lender that you qualify for this benefit. Click here for more info.

 

>> Sign up today for a free VA loan consultation with absolutely no obligation to learn more.

 

Life Insurance

Learn how to find out if you’re eligible for Life Insurance, explore your options, manage your policy, and file claims by clicking here.

Burial Benefits

You can apply to find out in advance if you can be buried in a VA national cemetery. This is called a pre-need determination of eligibility—and it can help make the burial planning process easier for your family members in their time of need. Click here to learn more and/or apply.

Survivor’s Pension

If you are a surviving spouses or an unmarried dependent of a wartime Veteran, you may be eligible for a survivor’s pension. Click here to learn more.

Survivors’ Compensation

If you’re the surviving spouse, child, or parent of a service member who died in the line of duty, or the survivor of a Veteran who died from a service-related injury or illness, you may be able to get a tax-free monetary benefit called VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (VA DIC). Click here to find out if you’re eligible.

Support and Services For Caregivers of Veterans

Comprehensive Assistance

Find out if you may be eligible and how to apply for the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC). Click here.

General Caregiver Support

The Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS) provides resources, education and support to caregivers of Veterans. The Veteran does not need to have a service-connected condition, for which the caregiver is needed, and may have served during any era. No formal application is required.  Get the details here.

Benefits for those Supporting a Veteran or Servicemember

VA Fiduciary Program

Find out how to become a fiduciary who manages finances for a veteran who can’t manage their own because of injury, health conditions, or age. Click here.

Fisher House Program

Learn more about receiving temporary accommodations to be near a veteran or active duty service member receiving medical treatment in a VA health facility far from home. Click here.

Coaching into Care

Learn how to get help for a veteran who is readjusting to civilian life from a licensed Psychologist or Social worker. Click here.

 

>> Stay up-to-date on all the latest military and veteran benefits info for you and your family!  Sign up today for the free MyMilitaryBenefits benefits update newsletter!

 

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VA Begins COVID-19 Vaccination

COVID-19 Vaccinations Begin for VA

As of January 19th, 2021, the US surpassed 400,000 deaths related to COVID-19. As of December 2020, approximately 5,500 of those occurred within the VA system1. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began administering COVID-19 vaccines just days after the first COVID-19 vaccine received FDA-approval1, 2.

Coronavirus, pandemic, COVID-19, and vaccine are words that will forever define the year 2020. The United States (US) declared a public health emergency in January1. In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic1. Individual experiences varied between March and December – blurry and all blended together are common descriptors of these months.

In December 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two COVID-19 vaccinations: Pfizer-BioNTech2 and Moderna3. One key difference between the two vaccines is storage requirements. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored in an ultra-low temperature freezer between -112°F and -76°F2, and the Moderna vaccine must be stored between -13°F and 5° F 3.

 

>> Are you a veteran?  Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

 

Plan to Vaccinate Veterans

Vaccinating a huge population, like veterans, requires strategic planning and collaboration between organizations to ensure the vaccines are distributed safely and effectively. The VA released a COVID-19 Vaccination Plan for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to do just that on December 14th, 2020. Important aspects of this plan are summarized in the following sections.

Priorities and Guiding Principles

Guiding principles are outlined in the COVID-19 Vaccination Plan for the VHA1:

  • The primary goal is to lower the risk of infection, prevent severe disease related to COVID-19, and minimize the spread of the virus.
  • The safety of VHA staff and veterans is the highest priority.
  • The third guiding principle outlines how risk stratification, vaccine distribution, and accessibility to the vaccine should be carried out1. This guideline includes the use of evidence and maximizing benefits of COVID-19 vaccination for veterans1.

Vaccine Distribution Plan

The COVID-19 Vaccination Plan addresses offering vaccines for veterans, staff, and caregivers in the U.S. Puerto Rico, and US territories1. VHA employs 400,000 people and serves 6.4 million veteran beneficiaries through the VHA1. The availability of COVID-19 vaccinations, the ability of healthcare facilities to properly handle and store the vaccine, and vaccine safety are considered in the VA’s vaccine distribution plan1.

The VA predicts a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccinations initially and wider vaccine availability in 2021. Vaccinations will first be provided to VHA healthcare workers and veterans living in long-term care units in 37 locations across the country. These locations were selected based on their size, ability to vaccinate large numbers of people and vaccine storage capabilities1.

High Priority Populations

People at high risk for negative outcomes due to COVID-19 are among the highest priority groups to receive COVID-19 vaccines. These populations include people over 65 years and those living with1:

  • cancer
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • organ transplant recipient
  • obesity
  • serious heart conditions (heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy)
  • sickle cell disease
  • type 2 diabetes

Healthcare providers are a high-priority group for receiving COVID-19 vaccination because they provide healthcare services to veterans1. It is also possible that they are high risk for negative outcomes due to COVID-19 due to the reasons listed above.

VA’s Strategic Plan for COVID-19 Vaccines

The VA’s plan is a strategy to meet their goal of offering COVID-19 vaccines to all veterans receiving healthcare through the VHA. When vaccine supply is limited, prioritizing high-risk populations and the people who care for these vulnerable veterans is a way to have the greatest impact when resources are limited.

The blurry months of this pandemic are not over. However, having vaccines and an effective plan to distribute them is a giant step closer to a post-pandemic world.

References

1 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020, December 14). COVID-19 Vaccination Plan for the Veterans Health Administration. link

2 Pfizer & BioNTech. (2020, December). Pfizer & BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine: Fact sheet for healthcare providers administering vaccine (vaccination providers). link

3 Moderna. (2020, December) Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine: Fact sheet for healthcare providers administering vaccine (vaccination providers). link

 

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>> Are you a veteran?  Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

 

 

VA, Fitbit Partner to Bring Veterans Free Year of Fitbit Premium

Partnership Launched Between VA and Fitbit Supporting Veteran Health

On January 11th, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a new partnership with Fitbit in an effort to support Veteran health and wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initiative will provide eligible Veterans, caregivers and VA staff with access to Fitbit programs and services to help manage stress, improve sleep, and increase physical activity during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

VA and Fitbit Program Information

The VA/Fitbit initiative will be focused on participants who currently use Fitbit devices. However, the VA has contracted with Fitbit to provide 10,000 eligible veterans, caregivers, and VA staff a free one-year membership to Fitbit Premium, a $79.00 value for each annual membership. The membership includes access to hundreds of workouts, mindfulness content, and a health metrics dashboard. To top it off, participants will also have access to Fitbit Health Coaching, one-on-one coaching and guidance from a certified health coach or licensed health professional.

Here are some of the listed eligibility requirements:

  • Veteran status
  • A current Fitbit user
  • Location

 

>> Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

 

A Free Fitbit?

Additionally, some veterans who currently receive VA health care may be eligible to receive a Fitbit Sense.  The Fitbit Sense is considered to be Fitbit’s most advanced health smartwatch.

“This initiative is an example of the way VA is successfully adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilke in a statement. “It also ensures the department continues to provide efficient, quality and timely care.”

The VA continues to work with Veteran service organizations (VSO) and community-based organizations to explore how this kind of wearable technology can help Veterans and their caretakers meet their needs.

While there are many veterans who work for the VA, it is my hope that veterans and caregivers will be prioritized in this great partnership. The value of this partnership is roughly $800,000.

To learn more about the VA/Fitbit initiative and further eligibility requirements, visit Fitbit Health Solutions.

(Image courtesy of Faiz Zaki via Shutterstock.com.)

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VA Auto Allowance for Adaptive Equipment

Allowance for Auto with Adaptive Equipment from VA

Few things diminish your freedom and independence like being unable to drive.  If a service-related (service-connected) disability has impacted your ability to drive, you may be eligible for an allowance to buy adaptive equipment designed to help you get back on the road.  Find out if you may be eligible, what benefits are available, and how to apply for them.

What benefits are available?

  • A one-time payment of not more than $21,488.29 to help you buy a specially equipped vehicle.
  • In some situations, one or more adaptive-equipment grants to modify a vehicle so it has features like power steering, brakes, seats, windows, or lift equipment to help you get into and out of the vehicle.

To see the current amounts for specific special allowances click here.

Who is eligible?

  • Service members and/or veterans.

What specific service-connected disabilities qualify?

You must have at least one of the service-connected conditions listed below:

  • Loss, or permanent loss of use, of 1 or both feet, or
  • Loss, or permanent loss of use, of 1 or both hands, or
  • Permanent decreased vision in both eyes: 20/200 vision or less in your better eye with glasses, or greater than 20/200 vision but with a visual field defect that has reduced your peripheral vision to 20 degrees or less in your better eye, or
  • A severe burn injury, or
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or
  • Ankylosis in 1 or both knees or hips (Please note: This qualifies you for an adaptive-equipment grant only.)

How do I apply?

  • You’ll need to file a claim for disability compensation and get VA approval before buying a vehicle or adaptive equipment.
  • You can apply for—and use—either grant before or after military discharge.

To apply for the one-time payment to help you buy a specially equipped vehicle:

  • You’ll need to fill out an Application for Automobile or Other Conveyance and Adaptive
    Download VA Form 21-4502 (PDF)
  • The VA will pay the vehicle’s seller directly.

To apply for the adaptive-equipment grant:

To see the full instructions on how to file a claim: click here.

You can file your claim:

Online  (Scroll down the page in the link above to the green “Let’s Get Started” button.)

 

By mail: Download VA Form 21-526EZ (PDF)

Print the form, fill it out, and send it to this address:

Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444

In person: Bring your application to a VA regional office near you.

With the help of a trained professional: Click here to learn how to get help filing your claim.

 

When to expect to hear back:

According to the VA website, it currently takes them about 131.5 days to make a decision. The length of time typically depends on the type of claim you filed, how many injuries or disabilities you claimed, how complex your injuries are, and how long it takes them to collect the evidence needed to properly evaluate your claim.

3 things you can do to help keep your claims approval process smooth and efficient:

  1. Follow the instructions carefully so that your claims application is complete and accurate.
  2. Don’t add information to your submitted claim unless you get a letter requesting it.
  3. If the VA schedules exams for you, be sure not to miss them.

You can now track the status of your claim online: Click here.

If you want more VA information on adaptive equipment, as well as their list of FAQs, click here.   Don’t leave benefits you deserve on the table. Adaptive equipment can make all the difference when it comes to quality of life.

 

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VA Support and Resources for Caregivers

What You Need to Know About VA Support for Caregivers

Playing the role of a caregiver – and the mountain of responsibilities that come with it – can be overwhelming. Caregivers of veterans can easily identify resources through the VA Caregiver Support Website and Caregiver Support Coordinators. A plethora of resources for caregivers is summarized here.

Caregivers play a critical and demanding role in promoting the overall health and quality of life of veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) serves over 9 million veterans annually and approximately a fourth of them need caregiver support.

The VA and partnering organizations offer a collection of valuable resources designed to support caregivers.

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC)

Provides education, support, a financial stipend, health insurance, beneficiary travel, and other resources to caregivers of eligible veterans. The program is currently being expanded to support caregivers of veterans in addition to post 9/11 veterans.

RELATED: VA Caregiver Program Expanded

VA Suicide Prevention Toolkit for Caregivers

A resource that focuses on the caregiver’s role in preventing veteran suicide and protecting the caregiver’s mental health. Preventing suicide among veterans and all US citizens, including their caregivers is a priority.

The toolkit includes a brief S.A.V.E. course through collaboration with PsychArmor. The free, online 25 minute video is designed to empower anyone – not just caregivers – to prevent suicide. Risk and protective factors, warning signs, and developing a specific safety and support plan for the veteran are also included.

Resources Designed for Caregivers

The VA Suicide Prevention Toolkit for Caregivers and the VA Caregiver Support Website list resources that support caregivers with managing various aspects of the caregiving experience.

Caregiver Support Coordinators

Available at every VA Medical Center. Coordinators assist caregivers in finding support to meet their needs and with program enrolment. Caregivers can meet with a coordinator via a secure teleconference platform.

Identify a Caregiver Support Coordinator using the search tool or by contacting the VA Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. EST.

Annie Caregiver Text Support

A text messaging service that provides stress management tips three times per week.

RELATED:  Telemedicine Benefits for Military and Veterans

Building Better Caregivers (BBC)

A free 6-week online Stanford University workshop that trains caregivers to improve the care they provide and teaches evidence-based self-care strategies. Caregivers will learn

  • strategies to manage challenging situations
  • effective communication
  • managing emotions and feeling more stable and confident

Peer Support Mentoring (PSM) Program

An opportunity for caregivers to receive support, guidance and friendship from caregivers who have had similar experiences. Communication occurs via email, telephone, writing letters, or in face to face meetings. Caregivers participate as mentors or the caregiver being mentored.

The program is available in both English and Spanish.

Resources for Enhancing All Caregivers’ Health (REACH) Intervention

Offers a trained coach who utilizes a Caregiver Notebook to help solve problems encountered by caregivers. Coaches work with caregivers in at least four sessions over a 2 or 3 month period.

The program is available for caregivers of veterans diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease), dementia, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Spinal Cord Injury/Disorder.

Caregiver Experience Map

This is an ongoing project that seeks to better understand the experiences and challenges of caregivers. Collaboration between the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the VA, and Phillips and ongoing support from the Wounded Warrior Project provides the means to better understand and positively impact outcomes.

The complex caregiver journey, according to the Caregiver Experience Map, includes three stages:

  • Becoming aware of and adjusting to changes in their relationship with the person they are caring for
  • Accepting the increased level of responsibility for care, shifting priorities, and reaching out for assistance
  • Finding a rhythm, feeling confident as a caregiver, and establishing a new version of normal

VA Caregiver Support Website

Provides access to caregiver support resources on various topics.

  • Medication Management Resources
  • Tools for Communicating with Healthcare Providers
  • Self-Care Resources for Caregivers
  • Financial Resources
  • Preparing for Emergencies
  • Resources for Organization
  • Mobility and Fall Prevention Resources
  • Home and Community Based Services – including Home Health Aides and Respite Care Services

Resources from VA Partners

Through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, caregivers can explore resources covering important aspects from employment to faith to specific types of wounds.

In addition to the S.A.V.E. course, PsychArmor offers courses covering self-care, communication, and various other important topics for caregivers.

One Day at a Time

Managing everyday responsibilities and providing around-the-clock care for another person is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. When this mountain of responsibilities feels overwhelming, caregivers should remind themselves to reach out for help and take it one day at a time.

 

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VA Caregiver Program Expanded

Expansion of VA Caregiver Program Now Includes Caregivers from All Eras

Originally available only to caregivers of post 9/11 veterans, the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) began its first phase of expansion on October 1st, 2020. Over the next two years, this VA service will become available to caregivers of veterans from all eras.

PCAFC provides support for caregivers of veterans living with service-connected injury or illness and needing personal care for at least six months. Personal care includes help with activities of daily living (eating, dressing, bathing, etc.). Caregivers may also provide supervision and protection if the veteran’s injury or illness impacts their ability to maintain personal safety.

PCAFC is one part of a larger series of VA caregiver support services. It focuses on meeting the needs of caregivers.

RELATED: VA Support and Resources for Caregivers

PCAFC Roots and Expansion

The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 lead to positive changes in services for caregivers of injured post 9/11 veterans. This Act required the VA to establish a comprehensive program to support caregivers of veterans with serious injury occurring in the line of duty.

PCAFC is a broad and comprehensive program designed to meet the needs of caregivers of veterans. PCAFC was implemented in May of 2011.

Following the VA MISSION Act of 2018, eligibility for PCAFC is being expanded to include both post 9/11 veterans and those serving before May 7, 1975 and who have sustained serious injury or illness in the line of duty. A second phase of expansion will occur in the next two years to expand eligibility to all remaining veterans.

Caregiver Eligibility

Caregivers must be at least 18 years old and either a family member or someone who lives with the veteran full-time. Caregivers must be assessed by the VA, complete training, and demonstrate ability to provide care to the veteran.

Caregiver Training

One of the largest efforts to train family caregivers in U.S. history, PCAFC requires caregivers to complete training. Training is offered in two languages: English and Spanish. It is completed either online or by working through a workbook.

The PCAFC curriculum includes the following topics:

  • Caregiver self-care – nutrition, exercise, and stress management
  • Caregiving skills – vital signs, controlling infection, providing wound care, managing medications and pain
  • Personal care – supporting activities of daily living, independence, and assistive devices in the home
  • Home safety – preventing falls and emergency preparedness
  • Managing challenges – associated with PTSD, TBI, depression, suicide, or substance abuse
  • Caregiver as an advocate – information on programs, benefits, support groups, respite care, legal and financial information

Monthly Stipend

Accounting for approximately 80% of the total program costs, a monthly stipend is directly paid to the caregiver. Stipends vary and are determined by the local VA. The number is calculated based on the needs of the veteran and total number of hours given each week. The number is also balanced with the local salary of a home health aide.

Information reported in Caregiver Training and Monthly Stipend sections is found in a 2017 study.

Additional Benefit Components

In addition to training and a monthly stipend, caregivers may be eligible for various other benefits.

  • Access to health insurance coverage for the caregiver through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA
  • Reimbursed travel expenses when attending required training or accompanying the veteran for treatment
  • Respite care services
  • Mental health services for the caregiver
  • Continued monitoring of veteran and caregiver wellbeing through quarterly assessments

Components of Program Expansion

Under the VA MISSION Act of 2018, PCAFC is undergoing a few changes.

Expanded Eligibility

In addition to post 9/11 veterans, the program is now available to veterans who served on or before May 7th, 1975. Over the next two years, the program will become available to veterans of all eras.

Legal and Financial Services

Designated caregivers of eligible veterans will have access to legal and financial services in 2021.

Improved Communication

Improved procedures for communication occur under the new PCAFC. Examples include notification if someone is removed from the program and how monthly stipends are calculated.

Eligibility Requirements

Veterans must have a serious service-connected injury or illness with a disability rating of 70% or more, as determined by a local VA. Care from the caregiver must be needed for 6 months and care of this nature is in the best interest of the veteran.

Caregiver Support is Necessary

Caregivers are often critical players in the overall health and well-being of veterans living with service-related disabilities. Their valuable work augments the work of the veteran’s healthcare team. Providing personalized care to veterans with complex health needs is demanding work. Supporting caregivers is necessary and better accomplished with support from PCAFC and related programs.

 

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VA Tackles Backlog of Claims Inventory

VA Tackles Backlog of Claims Inventory

In an August 13th press release, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has improved procedures by incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce the time it takes to process in-coming mail from ten days down to one day.

According to their statement, AI-infused software reads the mail document’s contents and automatically routes it to VA employees that are working the next step of the claims process. That means processing times are reduced because the information submitted by the Veteran to support their claim is reviewed faster.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie praised the automation, stating, “Moving past manual mail processes to automation puts the emphasis on Veterans. This new capability allows the VA to process Veterans’ claims quickly and efficiently.”

The VA receives more than 500,000 pieces of mail each month, most of them related to benefits and services. Those sending mail to the VA are often the Veterans themselves or surviving spouses, service agencies, attorneys and claims agents. Physically mailing documents is how claims are started and also how supporting documentation is submitted for potential monetary benefits.

VA Has Already Resumed In-Person Exams

On May 28th, just a short time after much of the country slowed due to COVID-19 lockdowns, the VA announced that it was resuming in-person Compensation and Pension (C&P) exams, but only in select locations across the country.

In order to resume these exams, COVID-19 safety measures like social distancing and appropriate personal protective equipment were implemented, allowing the VA to resume examinations and reduce the backlog of claims cases, which already averaged over 100,000 at any pre-pandemic point of time.

For any veterans outside of the coverage areas, listed here, claims services are available through telehealth appointments and a review of the “accepted clinical evidence process”, which reviews the existing medical records to provide information needed to complete the claim. This process is often helpful, but it does not eliminate the need for in-person examinations.

VA Historically Subcontracts Exams

During a July 6th interview on Federal Drive, a podcast of the Federal News Network, we learned that the Veterans Health Administration only conducted about 25% of the in-person C&P exams before the pandemic. David McLenachen, director of the Appeals Management Office at VBA, stated that contractors hired by the VBA conducted about 75% of these exams. These contractors are physicians and healthcare companies that manage hospitals who have subcontracted themselves with the VA in order to expand the coverage areas across the country. Many of us do not live near VA facilities, and often have to drive for hours to visit one.

Mr. McLenachen also reported that, as of early July, they were carrying a backlog of over 300,000 necessary exams, up from the usual 100,000. This despite the “tele-CMP” exams that have taken place during the pandemic, which offered an alternate mode of examination that would allow for the completion of some open cases.

Great Effort, Uncertainty Remains

It is still difficult to gauge the impact of the effectiveness of telehealth appointments on the claims process. The closest VA clinic to me is in Washington, D.C., and they are operating with extremely limited in-person appointments, preferring a heavy use of telehealth options. I’ve had numerous telehealth appointments in the past, and they are good for most applications and conditions. However, the claims that lead to compensatory benefits, especially initial claims, still require an in-person examination by the VA or one of its contractors.

All VA medical clinics follow the CDC’s guidance regarding COVID-19 measures to influence normal operations. Ensure that you check your clinic’s website before arriving for guidance on entry procedures. You can utilize their COVID-19 Fast Pass Pre-Screen to expedite your entry at many of the VA’s medical clinics.

With the infusion of AI into document screening, an earlier-than-expected start of in-person exams, and an army of subcontractors willing to perform them, the VA continues striving to support veterans by getting them the care and compensation they deserve.

(Image courtesy of Monika Wisniewska via www.123rf.com)

 

>> Are you a veteran?  Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

 

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VA Moves Its Travel Reimbursement System Online with AccessVA

VA Moves Its Travel Reimbursement System Online with AccessVA

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is making it easier for veterans and eligible beneficiaries to submit travel claims for traveling to receive medical care.  AccessVA will be online filing system for travel reimbursement.

Currently, those seeking reimbursement for medical travel must file their travel claims using a paper form or through specially designated kiosks at VA medical centers.

After the online filing mode is made available the kiosks will be phased out. However hardcopy travel claims may still be used. However, beginning on July 13, the following locations will have online travel claim filing available.

Locations with Online Travel Claim Filing Available

  • Bay Pines
  • Houston
  • Kansas City
  • Minneapolis
  • Salt Lake City

By the end of November 2020, the VA electronic travel claim program should be available nationwide. Eligible veterans and beneficiaries will be able to visit VA’s Access VA website to file their claims. The new program will be known as the Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System or BTSSS. The program promises to speed payments and cut down on errors that occur when using paper travel claims.

 

“Streamlining the Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System will help our veterans get their travel reimbursements more securely and efficiently.”

– VA Secretary Robert Wilkie

What is AccessVA?

AccessVA improves online interaction with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for veterans, family members, service members, and business partners by providing a single-entry point for access to many VA websites and online applications.

It enables VA websites and online applications to accept a growing number of federal and commercially issued credentials (which meet US Government standards), without the need to create and manage multiple VA website specific credentials.

 

>> Are you a veteran?  Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

 

AccessVA Offers More Options and Increased Convenienc

  • In the past, VA website or online applications required users to provide a username and password for use only on that site. This forced users to maintain many different usernames and passwords for multiple VA websites.
  • AccessVA allows users to login with Sign-In Partners they may already have such as DS Logon, CAC Card, VA PIV, and more.
  • Users who do not have one of the Sign-In Partners can register once and gain access to many VA websites, instead of registering for each website individually.
  • As AccessVA grows, users will have access to even more VA websites. It will also be able to accept more credentials allowing users to choose which is most convenient for them.

What’s in it for the Veterans?

The Department of Veterans Affairs exists to serve our Veterans. Veterans will realize substantial benefits by using AccessVA for online transactions including:

Secure and Easy Identity Validations

AccessVA provides a single identification credential and logon process that veterans can use for a number of federal information systems across participating agencies. Once an account is established, the veteran will be spared the burden of having to keep track of multiple sets of identification credentials.

Reduces the Wait for Service and Increases Public Trust

AccessVA provides improved customer service by enabling a more streamlined record keeping system that allows responsive and timely service for the Veteran while increasing the public’s confidence in online business transactions with the Federal Government by preventing potential fraud.

Saves Taxpayer Dollars

AccessVA promotes efficiencies and cost savings by establishing a unified authentication system that can be interoperable among various agencies that service our Veterans and citizens. By adopting a single system, we save taxpayer dollars.

 What does AccessVA do?

In the past, each web site or application you visited wanted to provide you with a username and password for use on that system only. This forced you to keep up with many different usernames and passwords for different web sites. In AccessVA, a username and password that is issued to you (one example of an online credential) will be used at multiple participating VA applications. As the AccessVA sign-in service grows, so will the number of VA applications that will accept your credential. One of the main goals is to simplify the process for users to do business with the VA online.

Do I need to be a veteran to use AccessVA?

You do not need to be a veteran to use AccessVA.  AccessVA is intended for veterans, family members, services members, and VA business partners.

Each AccessVA enabled website offers different services and may have different access requirements. If any additional requirements are required to access an AccessVA enabled website additional information will be made available on that website.

Some AccessVA Sign-In Partners also have requirements. For example, to acquire AccessVA’s most popular credential, DS Logon, you need to be one of the following:

  • Veteran
  • Service member
  • Eligible dependent

Furthermore, you need to be registered in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).  Most Veterans are already enrolled in the DEERS system.  Spouses and dependents are also often already enrolled.

The type of VA application you are attempting to sign-in to will determine whether one of the AccessVA credential providers available to non-veterans will be accepted.

“VA is working diligently to find new ways to innovate and simplify how we serve Veterans and their beneficiaries,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Streamlining the Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System will help our Veterans get their travel reimbursements more securely and efficiently.”

For more information, visit the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs at this link.

 

>> Are you a veteran?  Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

 

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