Military Connection: Bill Could Affect Benefits: By Debbie Gregory

Senate BillOn June 20, 2014, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2015 passed in the House. It has since worked its way through the Senate’s Committee on Appropriations. The committee passed a version of the bill on July 17th, and now the bill is facing the Senate floor, just in time to try to beat Congress’s August break.

Included in the bill is language that could put an end to the targeting of service members, Veterans, and their families by for-profit colleges and universities. The bill could place new restrictions on some of the service-earned education benefits currently used toward for-profit education.

If the provision reaches the final passed version, it could mean changes in the language of the “90/10 rule,” which is used to cap federal funding to for-profit colleges. Under the current 90/10 rule, there is a provision in the law that prohibits for-profit colleges and universities from deriving more than 90% of their revenue from the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid programs. The other 10% needs to come from sources other than the federal government.

Department of Defense programs like Tuition Assistance for active-duty service members and MyCAA for military spouses are currently not included in the 90/10 calculation. The new legislation would count these DOD programs against the schools’ 10%.

If passed, the legislation could require the Department of Defense to better track how the Tuition Assistance and MyCAA funding is being spent by for-profit colleges. It could also prevent DOD funds funds from being used for advertising and marketing purposes by the schools.

While many for-profit schools are highly utilized by military students, and often lead to sustainable post-military professions, unfortunately there are some schools who take advantage of the system.

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Whether the provisions are included in the bill when it passes *****or***** not, military and Veteran students and their dependents should research their prospective school’s track record before enrolling. There are plenty of ways to check to see if a school is military friendly. You can start by checking the school’s info on the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool from Military Connection’s Education page.

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Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Bill Could Affect Ed. Benefits:  By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Loans Boost Housing Market: By Debbie Gregory

Va loansThe nation’s struggling housing market could be seeing improvement, thanks to military Veterans. Approximately 2.8 million Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans may be able to take advantage of VA mortgages and special discounts in order to achieve home ownership. VA home loans are already nearing a twenty year high.

There are currently over 2 million VA loans, with total balances reaching over $370 billion. Despite popular belief, the VA doesn’t loan money to Veterans. VA loans are actually loans from private lenders that are secured through the VA. The federal government reduces the risk for lenders by covering up to 25 percent of the loan amount if the loan is defaulted on. These loans have already accounted for 8.1% of mortgages made in the first quarter of 2014. This number is up from 6.9% in 2013.

In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, also known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, into law.  The law included benefits for military Veterans such as college tuition assistance, Veteran mortgages, business loans and unemployment benefits. VA mortgage benefits are available to active duty service members, reservists, Veterans, as well as their surviving spouses.

More and more active-duty service members and younger Veterans are using their VA mortgage benefits to buy homes. This may be because the cost to rent is getting more expensive, and the risks of homeownership now seem less dangerous.

Service members and Veterans are also using additional resources in their real estate ventures. Homes for Heroes provides additional savings to service members and Veterans by offering rebates, discounts and other exclusive deals. By using a Homes for Heroes affiliate for your real estate business, you enjoy significant savings while contributing resources for the operation and management of the Homes for Heroes Foundation. The foundation is a 501 (c) 3 that provides ***or*** coordinates financial assistance and housing resources to our Nation’s Heroes such as Military personnel, police/peace officers, firefighters and first responders in need.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard &amp,amp,amp, Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Loans Boost Housing Market: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Protecting Vets from ID Theft: By Joe Silva

By Debbie Gregory

 

ID theft

 

In today’s information age, people need to be very careful about what information that they give out. Military Veterans are not exempted from identity theft. In fact, Veterans are some of the biggest targets of identity theft.

One of the pieces of information that many Veterans don’t realize that they need to protect is their military discharge, form DD-214, and similar documents.

I’ve talked with Veterans who said that they email their DD-214s to employers when filing out applications and sending their resumes. They leave them at interviews like they’re business cards, and they send them as .doc attachments to any club they wish to join, or any internet seller offering them a Veteran’s discount.

This is a very, very dangerous practice, and not enough Veterans know that they need to safeguard these documents. No club or vendor should ever need your full SSN on the document. If they say that they do, then I would not trust them. Some may ask for the last 4 digits of your social and that is fine.

If a DD-14 is required, you can provide it or any other important document in the following way:

It is recommended whenever proof of service is required, black out all or all but the last 4 digits of your Social Security. The best way to do this would be to copy your original document and black out your SSN with a black marker. You can scan the blacked out copy to your computer and save as a PDF file.

PDF files are recommended because they cannot be altered as easily as Word docs and other files. You can scan the document directly into a PDF file or click save as on a Word doc and select  saving the file as a PDF on the dropdown of the save box that pops on your screen.

You can print out the alternate copies of your documents and give those to employers on interviews. If they ask for the original, that is fine, bring the original to show your employer, but be sure that you give them a copy of the original only.

Veterans should safeguard their DD-214 and all documents by keeping electronic copies, and not providing the documents and their contents indiscriminately. Veterans should also have their credit checked at least once every year to make sure that there are no surprises due to identity theft when they try to apply for credit or a loan, or even employment.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard & Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Protecting Vets from ID Theft: By Joe Silva

VA Proposes Changes to its Claims Process – Some Vets Fear the Change

VA Proposes Changes to its Claims Process

By Debbie Gregory.

In the past few years, the VA has integrated automated online application programs for the majority of their benefits and services, including Veteran Disability claims. But the VA has still accepted more traditional methods of applying for benefits, such as mail, fax, or hand written/ hand delivered submission to continue. Currently, the VA will start benefits compensation for claims retroactively, starting on the date that the initial written contact reaches the VA.

But the VA is considering altering this policy. If approved, Veterans will have to register online or submit a correctly completed, hand written, standard application form in order for the start date for their claims to begin. The proposed change has caused a little bit of controversy, and a lot of Veterans are up in arms about the suggested change.

There is no doubt that the change that the VA is suggesting greatly improves the VA claims process for Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The generations of GWOT and Desert Storm Veterans generally have a working knowledge of computers and at least some familiarity with using online programs. The proposed change will make VA Disability Claims and applications for other benefits much easier for these Veterans. But it is the older Veterans, primarily those older than 65, that will find difficulty and delays with their VA claims if the change is implemented.

Just as active duty military personnel honor those who came before them, Veterans maintain respect and appreciation for older generations of those who served. If the VA were to approve their proposed policy change, they would need to take extra measures in order to ensure that the older Veterans are still well-served. This can include extra help on the website, or somehow ensuring that Veterans are able to submit a claim correctly. There might not be one universal answer to accomplishing this, but if the VA changes its policy, it needs to ensure that they do not incidentally exclude a single Veteran from being able to submit applications for claims, benefits, or services.

On January 4th, Military Connection posted an article titled, “How Veterans Can Help Speed Up the VA Claims Application Process.” In the article, we described how paper records can take up more of a VA representative’s time than electronic files. While we continue to urge all Veterans to submit their VA claims and benefits applications electronically, no Veteran should be excluded from obtaining their VA benefits and VA Disability.

How Veterans Can Help Speed Up the VA Claims Application Process

VA benefits

By Debbie Gregory.

With so many of today’s Veterans coming home in need of assistance, there is often confusion, aggravation and helplessness when applying for VA benefits. Most Veterans who separated from the armed forces, prior to 2009, were just told to  visit a VA office or call one of their phone numbers, and all of their needs would be met. Understandably, it hasn’t been that easy for Veterans to get the help they need. At times, Veterans have been lost in a sea of red-tape and paperwork. Some have had to re-apply for benefits multiple times due to lost or inaccurate paperwork.

The VA has made several improvements in the last few years in an attempt to make Veteran benefits more accessible to those who deserve them. One major improvement was moving most of the applications for benefits online. If properly utilized, the online applications can make applying for VA benefits a faster, smoother transaction.

Many Veterans are still trying to file applications for VA benefits by using fax or mailed-in paper applications. This can slow down the entire claims process for their application and many others as well. Using paper is slower than using an online application, and paperwork can easily be misplaced. Paper claims require an actual person to receive, file and retrieve a document. File management can take several minutes out of VA employee’s workday for each file they have to handle.

Imagine snail-mailing an incomplete or incorrect Veteran benefits application to the VA. A representative must receive it, notice that it’s incorrect, respond to the application, and mail it back. Using paper, this application could now take several days, even weeks, to make its way back to the applicant, be corrected and sent back to the VA again. This paper application has also taken several minutes away from the VA representative where they aren’t helping other Veterans as well. If the same application had been submitted online, the discrepancy could have been caught instantaneously, and no other claim would have been put on hold because of it. And that claim would have been processed immediately.

The VA isn’t perfect. No organization of its size, servicing as many people as the VA does, will ever receive 100% approval from its patrons. But Veterans have it in their own power to speed up the process by using the online application system where available. For  Veterans who do need to apply in person, it is recommended that they arrive with an application form that was downloaded and filled out from the VA website.

Quick Index of VA Benefits and Services

SALUTE TO THE PAST

By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans were told exactly what to do in the military. From scrubbing a toilet to servicing an aircraft engine to carrying out a combat mission, chances are there was an SOP detailing precisely how a service member was supposed to accomplish every task. Now that they are on their own, these same personnel struggle as they transition into civilian life. Just figuring out where to go for VA benefits information can prove to be a difficult task.

Military Connection would like to make things easier for Veterans by providing an index of quick links that can help Veteran find the services they need, without getting lost trying to navigate through pages and pages of information.

VA Crisis Hotline – This link will take you directly to a page that will provide Veterans and family members with a crisis phone number, or allow them to chat about their crisis online, or communicate via text. Or call (800) 273 – 8255. In an emergency please call 911.

VA Center Locations – This link will direct you to an interactive map that provides you with an address and phone number of a VA location near you.

New to VA Page – This webpage will provide any Veteran, no matter how long they have used the VA, with useful information about the VA and how to navigate their site. The page also provides you with important toll free phone numbers for Veteran services.

How to Apply for Benefits– This page provides direct links to online applications for nearly all of the VA’s programs.

VA Medical Benefits Package Overview and Enrollment – This link will take you to a VA webpage that provides quick links to a PDF version of the VA’s Health Benefits Guide, as well as a link to enroll in the VA’s eBenefits registry. There is also a wealth of information on the page about Veteran health benefits.

GI Bill – This link will take you to the VA’s GI Bill homepage. From there, Veterans can easily access information about their education benefits or click to apply for their GI Bill.

VA Mental Health Homepage – This page will provide you with valuable information on how to locate help for mental health concerns. It will also provide you with anonymous, confidential screening tools that test for signs of depression, PTSD or substance abuse. There are also links to guides and information about the different mental health disorders and their treatment and prevention.

Homeless Veterans – The best way to help any Veteran that is homeless or in danger of becoming homeless is to connect that Veteran with the VA. This link will provide information and phone numbers designed to help homeless Veterans and aid those who wish to help a homeless Veteran or wish to prevent a Veteran from becoming homeless.

Disability Compensation – This link takes you to the VA’s disability compensation page. From there you can look up benefits and eligibility requirements, and even apply for VA disability.

Home Loan information – From this page, Veterans can find information about VA home loans, including eligibility requirements and how to apply.

Veteran Employment resources and information – This link will take you to a VA page that provides Veterans with links to brochures and information about vocational programs for Veterans, and information on how to succeed in a civilian workplace.

There are many, many more services and benefits that the VA has to offer Veterans. Veterans are encouraged to frequent the VA website at VA.gov and educate themselves on all that the VA has to offer.

Bill Proposed to Save Veterans’ Pensions from Cuts

Bill Proposed to Save Veterans

By Debbie Gregory.

A proposal made by Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick is intended to benefit military retirees. The Fitzpatrick Bill is part of a mainly republican backed effort to redirect funding cuts that are currently aimed at military pensions.

Recently, a bipartisan budget agreement was approved by both the Senate and the House. The budget included plans that would ultimately save the government approximately $85 billion over ten years. Part of the savings is intended to come from drastically reducing annual cost of living increases for military retirees who are under the age of 62. Cuts made to military pensions are expected to save the government approximately $6.3 billion over the next ten years.

In 2011, the Treasury Inspector General reported that the IRS issued approximately $4.2 billion in child tax credit checks to illegal immigrants. Through a loophole that is still present, illegal aliens have been able to claim payments from the IRS through refundable child tax credit.

Before the budget agreement was passed on December 18th, a push was made to vote on an amendment to the budget. The amendment was designed to eliminate the cuts to military retirees’ pensions and simultaneously close the child tax credit loophole for illegal immigrants. The amendment was shot down by Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Patty Murray, who claimed that the amendment was really an attempt to squash the entire budget.

The Fitzpatrick Bill is hoping to succeed where the amendment push failed. It is proposing to completely eliminate all reductions that are expected to affect military retirement benefits and replace the expected government savings by eliminating the current loophole that allows illegal aliens to claim cash payments through refundable child tax credit.

In these harsh economic times, it is naïve to believe that cuts would not be made to government spending and that different groups have different desires and agendas. But as a country, we must take care of our Veterans at all cost. The way that our nation treats its Veterans today not only affects the future safety of our nation, but our ability to defend our nation and its interests throughout the world. Our military is an all-volunteer force that solely runs on the ability to entice new recruits. The American military’s ability to keep key members in their ranks long enough to be promoted into experience-required leadership roles is what makes it the elite fighting force that it is.

If our government fails to take care of Veterans today, what chance does the U.S. military have at recruiting and retaining a force of any worth going forward?

Marine Corps Tuition Assistance

Marine Corps Tuition Assistance

By Debbie Gregory.

Lately, there has been speculation in regards to the Marine Corps’ Tuition Assistance program. Many Marines aren’t sure if they are eligible, or what the eligibility requirements are. Many people are asking, “How can the government deny their Marines this benefit?”

Let me begin by saying that Tuition Assistance is NOT the Post-9/11 GI Bill. TA is not intended to be used by service members to give themselves a head start on successful civilian careers after the military. Instead, TA is meant to be used as a retention tool for each branch of the military. It is designed to be used by service members who are not separating, and require more education to further their military careers. I have made this distinction so that people don’t believe that our Marines are being mistreated.

There have been a lot of restrictions put on the Tuition Assistance programs for all branches of service. Marine Corps Tuition Assistance is discretionary, meaning that it given at the discretion of the Marine Corps, depending on funds and the user’s eligibility.

Beginning October 1, the Marine Corps TA funding budget is divided into fiscal quarters. Once funding for any fiscal quarter is exhausted, approvals for TA will be deferred until the next quarter. When funding is available, TA will only be approved for eligible Marines, and for courses that begin in that fiscal quarter.

The Marine Corps may soon see further restrictions or cuts, but as of November 18, 2013, here are the latest eligibility requirements for Marine Corps Tuition Assistance:

Marines must have a minimum of 24 months of time in service before they are eligible to use TA.

All Marines wishing to use TA must be eligible for promotion.

Before they are approved for TA, first time users will have to complete the Marine Corps Institute Personal Financial Management Course (course ID 3420G).

All first time TA applicants will be limited to only one course for their first semester/term. This can be waived if there is documentation proving that the user has at least an Associate Degree, or at least 60 academic credits with a GPA of 2.5 or better.

TA will not be approved for classes that begin before the conclusion of any previously approved course.

Funds used for Tuition Assistance for classes that result in approved involuntary withdrawal waivers or failing grades will count toward the individual fiscal year ceilings.

Only one course will be approved for any user who, in the previous term, had their overall GPA fall below 2.5, received a D grade, or withdrew from any course.

TA will not be approved retroactively. Marines must submit their TA requests and receive approval prior to the course’s start date.
Members cannot use TA to obtain duplicate degrees, such as second Associate degree or a degree with double majors.

All issues, including incomplete courses, unpaid reimbursements and waivers, must be resolved in a Marine’s TA account before further requests will be considered.

TA cannot be used for fees related to certifications, license exams or credentials.

Reserve component officers who are on active duty orders or mobilization must have an EAS date of at least two years beyond the completion date of the requested course.

Enlisted marines must have an EAS of 60 days beyond the completion date of the requested course.

TA cannot be used for non-credit courses, training programs, continuing education/workforce development programs.

Marines who attend technical/vocation programs that involve more than one course will only be allowed to take two courses at a time.

How to Start Using Education Your Benefits

How to start using Education Benefits

By Debbie Gregory.

While in the military, men and women in uniform are told what to wear, when to eat, and when to sleep. After their term of service has been completed, Veterans feel that they are left to fend for themselves. Veterans return to civilian-hood and try to prioritize the rest of their lives. For most Veterans, the first step for the rest of their lives is  heading back to school and using their education benefits.

But how exactly are Veterans supposed to go about doing that? How do they get approved by the VA? Which school should they attend? How do they enroll? Will they get accepted? What subject should they study? What classes should they take? Veterans are left to figure out all of these questions, with little to no help.

Left to their own devices, many Veterans have found it difficult to access their benefits. Some have had difficulty gaining information on how to use their education benefits at their desired school. Some Veterans simply choose to enroll in the college closest to their home.

Unfortunately, there is currently no universal way to solve all of our Veterans’ problems. But with a little advanced preparation and research, Veterans can smoothly transition from servicemember to student.

Here are a few tips for using your education benefits:

Before using your education benefits, Veterans should take the time to decide what career field to work in. Whatever the motivation, be it money, happiness or talent, you should choose a career that you are passionate about. Once that is decided, then start looking at what education benefits are available to achieve a successful career in that field.

When researching options, the first step should always be the primary source. The primary source for a Veteran researching educational benefits is the VA’s education webpage. Veterans should view the information provided by the VA for their various benefits and GI Bills, and pick the best benefit to suit your career. The Post-9/11GI Bill is currently the most popular benefit, as well as the most generous to date, but time restrictions and educational goals might make it too cumbersome for some career paths.

Once the career/study path and benefit have been chosen, you’re in a better position to choose a school. When choosing a school, a high priority for prospective Veteran students should be the presence of Veteran representation on campus. Questions and issues regarding benefits are not over once you’re enrolled at a school. Veterans should contact a school’s Veterans Resource Center or similar entity and discuss their goals, prior to enrolling. If a school is incapable of completing this, they might not have your best interests in mind. Veterans should choose schools by researching their websites and even taking campus tours. Veterans should make sure that the school offers the degree program they desire.

As a Veteran, you have worked hard for your education benefits. You should take care not to squander the opportunity that you have been given to complete your education. Veterans are encouraged to seek information regarding every aspect of your education. You can never research the topic enough to make an informed decision regarding your education. The reason that most Veterans enlisted in the military was to create a better future. You are encouraged to give yourself the best opportunity to accomplish that mission.

Government Shutdown Shuts-off Tuition Assistance

Gov shutdown shuts off TA

By Debbie Gregory.

While the politicians continue to agree to disagree, many active duty military service members, Veterans and their families continue to feel the effects of the government shutdown. Even though paychecks for active duty military have been spared, and current VA compensation for pensions, education benefits and vocational rehabilitation programs have a temporary sustainability programs such as tuition assistance are being shut off by the shutdown.

About 300,000 service members used the various military Tuition Assistance (TA) programs last year. TA enables active duty personnel to attend college in their off duty time by providing those  eligible with up to $4,500 per fiscal year and a maximum of $250 per semester hour for tuition and fees.

However, all branches of the armed forces have ceased processing new TA requests until the shutdown ends. Applicants can still apply online, however, they will not be processed until the government reopens. And sources are saying that TA funding for classes with a start date after October 1, 2013 will not be released until the shutdown ends and funds are again available.

The Air Force even warned its personnel that all tuition assistance for classes starting on or after October 1, 2013 would be suspended until further notice. In a statement from the Air Force development office, Kimberly Yates was quoted as saying, “Students should take action to withdraw from their current class or pursue using another funding source, such as the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post 9/11 GI Bill.”

The U.S. Army’s tuition assistance website, GoArmyEd, has posted an urgent message on the subject as well, saying that they would reject all pending and approved TA requests for classes starting on or after October 1, 2013. In an update, GoArmyEd explains what this means for soldiers who wanted to use TA:

“Denied TA requests for classes with start dates during the budget impasse period will not be reinstated or reimbursed. Once Congress passes the budget, only those classes with start dates after TA has been reinstated will be approved. We do not anticipate any lag between the time of the Congressional budget approval and the re-instatement of TA. We regret the impact this is having on Soldiers.”

GoArmyEd recommends that all soldiers utilizing TA with a start date after October first should drop those classes or risk having to pay for them. The site also recommends that soldiers utilize College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests or study for the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSSTs); however the DSSTs themselves are not available during the shutdown.

Soldiers, Sailors and Marines will be able to resume filing TA requests once the situation in Washington is resolved.

We at Military Connection are on the side of our men and women who have worn or still wear the uniforms of our military, and their families. We would like to support you during the shutdown by keeping you aware of the information that affect you.