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Advice on Obtaining VA Benefits

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By Debbie Gregory.

Most veterans know that if they experience a disabling event while they are serving, they are entitled to VA disability compensation. But the process may be a little more involved than they might first anticipate. Here are some tips to help navigate the process.

The VA will require you to prove you have the condition you are claiming, and that this occurred or was first experienced during service. This can usually be accomplished through a physician’s diagnosis and service records. If the problem wasn’t reported, a buddy or witness statement may suffice.

Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes. Gather as much evidence as you can to support the claim. While the VA will assist you, it’s in your best interest to do the legwork on your own, since no one your case better than you do. Make sure you have a copy of your Official Military Personnel File, and if you don’t, request it from the National Personnel Records Center.

Double check what forms you need to fill out. This is a great time to ask the VA or your Veteran Service Officer for assistance. Their expertise will prevent you from wasting time filling out the wrong forms, and making sure you fill out the ones you need. Stay on top of deadlines and requests for additional information.

If the VA schedules a Compensation and Pension exam for you to meet with a VA examiner, you must show up for the appointment. Failure to do so may cost you your claim.

Don’t underestimate the value of your Veteran Service Officer. Their services are free, and they can help you navigate the system. They can also help you file appeals for denied claims. In addition to State Veteran Affairs Offices, the following organizations also have Veteran Service Officers nationwide:

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Veteran’s Suicide Tragedy Compounded by Financial Consequences

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By Debbie Gregory.

On July 5th, Stephen Coning, a 26-year- old veteran who had served three deployments as a Marine Infantryman, tragically took his own life. Coning was part of the infamous 2/7 Marines, a unit that has been plagued by a suicide rate sixteen times that of the national average.

Two days later, the Department of Veterans Affairs released data showing that the rate of suicide for those who served is much higher than for civilians. But despite that connection, the VA does not presume all suicides to be “service connected.”

After Coning transitioned out of the military in 2013, he went to school on the GI Bill and got a job as a veterinary tech.

Although Coning was a great father, he had trouble sleeping, was short-tempered, and didn’t do well in crowds. He always wanted his back to a wall. His wife, Sky, believed her husband had post-traumatic stress disorder, but he was never tested for it by the VA.

“The VA recommended that he go through PTSD testing but he did not,” she says. And not getting tested had consequences that her husband surely never intended, as there is no medical record that Coning was depressed or had PTSD.

With nothing formal to show a strong connection between his time in Afghanistan and his suicide, the VA can’t rule his death service connected.

If a veteran has been rated as 100 percent disabled, or has a VA diagnosis linked to suicide, then the VA can pay several thousand dollars for a funeral and grant a surviving spouse a monthly support payment. But without proof a death is connected to military service, the VA pays just a few hundred dollars for burial and can help find a plot in a cemetery.

Unofficial help has come from the local Indiana state VA, which used a discretionary fund and paid thousands of dollars for the funeral. Additionally, the Marine Corps League covered Sky’s mortgage for two months, and many strangers have contributed to the family’s GoFundMe page.

Also, the anti-suicide group Spartan Weekend donated $4,000 for Coning’s burial, and has started a memorial fund in his name. They are also petitioning to increase the amount the VA pays for burials, even if they’re not service connected.

Sky will now need to collect testimony from friends and family that her husband’s 30% VA disability rating for nerve damage and hearing loss was not the only disability her husband had. Only then might the VA grant service connection and pay benefits and burial.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Military Connection: Great News for Veterans Suffering from TBI

TBI Rehab

By Debbie Gregory.

On April 13, 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the contract recipients for the Assisted Living Pilot Program for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (AL-TBI) program.

The AL-TBI program was originally slated to end in 2014. But provisions in the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 extended this program through October, 2017. Through the AL-TBI program, Veterans who meet the eligibility criteria are placed in private sector residential care facilities that specialize in neurobehavioral rehabilitation. Veterans in the program are provided with team-based care and assistance in many cognitive areas, including mobility, speech and memory.

To date, approximately 202 Veterans have participated in the AL-TBI program at 47 different facilities located in 22 different states. As of April, 2015, there are 101 Veterans enrolled in the AL-TBI program. And thanks to the extension through the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability act of 2014, the VA continues to accept new Veterans into the program.

In October, 2014, the VA issued a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) to all vendors (in this instance to care facilities) who wished to participate in the AL-TBI program. The VA awarded 20 contracts, effective April 1, 2015, to companies and organizations that have facilities in a total of 27 different states.

“We are pleased to extend this valuable program and provide specialized assisted living services to eligible Veterans with traumatic brain injury that will enhance their rehabilitation, quality of life and community integration,” said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VA’s Interim Under Secretary for Health, “TBI is one of the prevalent wounds of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and VA remains committed to taking care of those Veterans suffering from TBI.”

Veterans suffering from TBI as a result of injuries sustained through service to their country deserve the best care that we can provide. The continuation of the Al-TBI program and the awarding of these 20 contracts reaffirms our support to those Veterans and their families.

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: Great News for Veterans Suffering from TBI: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Proposal Could Hurt Low-income Veterans

Assisted livingBy Debbie Gregory.

An attempt by the government to close a loophole found in eligibility requirements for a Veteran benefit would most likely disqualify the majority of Veterans from the services that the benefit was intended to help.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently proposed to close a loophole that allowed war time Veterans to transfer assets to family members or trusts in order to meet income requirements for a benefit that helps provide funding for medical care and assisted living to low-income Veterans.

A report written by the Government Accountability Office in 2012 recommended that the VA introduce a look-back provision into their system, to keep Veterans from transferring assets in order to meet income guidelines. The GAO report referenced one instance where a Veteran transferred more than one million dollars into a trust just weeks before applying for the benefit. And even though VA case workers knew about the transfer, the claim was approved because of the loophole. The GAO found that financial planners have charged Veterans hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars in fees and urged them to transfer assets into trusts. The transfers are legal for VA benefits but tend to disqualify the Veterans for other programs, such as Medicaid coverage.

Under the proposed change to the program, there would be an evaluation any transfer of assets made within the three years prior to the application of the benefit, when looking to meet income requirements. The VA claims that the proposed change to a penalty period might keep financial advisers from suggesting that Veterans create the appearance of an economic need where the need does not exist.

The VA’s proposal to close the loophole would do more than just eliminate the opportunity for wealthier Veterans to move around their assets to qualify for benefits. The change could essentially eliminate funding for assisted living services for truly low-income Veterans.

The benefit, as it currently stands, provides up to $2,120 per month for wartime Veterans who are at least 65, or who have a disability not connected to their military service. This benefit is intended to provide medical care only. But the proposed change eliminates many of the services from assisted living from its allowable expenditures, services that many elderly and disabled Veterans depend on. The new proposal classifies such services as help with medications and assistance with daily functions as “non-medical” services and will therefore no longer be covered if the change is made.

The VA estimates that the proposal could save the department $134 million over five years from the look-back provision, and would save $313 million on denied coverage for assisted living services. This estimation has some Veteran advocates wondering if the transferring of funds wasn’t the prime target of the proposal.

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: VA Proposal Could Hurt Low-income Veterans: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Breakdown of VA Life Insurance Programs

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By Debbie Gregory.

Those who served in the U.S. military are eligible for a multitude of benefits, services and resources through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Included in these provisions are a variety of life insurance programs that are designed specifically for Veterans.

The VA offers seven main Veteran life insurance programs. Knowing which programs you qualify for and which program will provide the most benefit to you and your family is very important. Here is a general breakdown of the VA life insurance programs:

  • Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) – A low-cost term life insurance with coverage up to $400,000. Coverage is automatic for nearly all active-duty personnel. It is also automatic for members of the National Guard and Individual Ready Reserve scheduled to perform at least 12 periods of inactive duty training per year, cadets and midshipmen of the U.S. military academies, and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps members, as well as many others.
  • Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Disability Extension (SGLI-DE) – Active personnel deemed totally disabled at time of their separation from active-duty have the option extend their SGLI coverage for up to two years at no cost.
  • Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) – A program that offers lifetime renewable group term insurance for Veterans. Veterans who had full-time SGLI coverage are eligible to convert SGLI to VGLI within one year and 120 days after separation.
  • Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) – This option insures spouses and dependent children of active-duty personnel with SGLI coverage up to $100,000. Dependent children are automatically covered under FSGLI at no charge. The monthly rates for insuring spouses range between $0.50 and $50.
  • Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI) – In the event that a service member suffers a traumatic injury, including amputations, blindness, or paraplegia as the result of traumatic injuries, TSGLI provides automatic SGLI coverage. TSGLI is not only for combat injuries, but provides insurance coverage for injuries incurred both on and off duty.
  • Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI) – Totally disabled Veterans may be eligible for free coverage and may have the opportunity to purchase additional insurance. S-DVI life insurance coverage is for Veterans who received a service connected disability rating from the VA within the last two years; the rating must be for a new disability.
  • Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) – This option is a mortgage life insurance protection provided for severely disabled Veterans after the VA has approved a Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant.

The VA provides an extremely useful Interactive Overview of the different VA Insurance benefits at http://www.benefits.va.gov/insurance/overviewInsurance.html

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: Breakdown of VA Life Insurance Programs: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Senate Bill for New VA Wait Lines: By Joe Silva

VA cemeteries

There is a bill making its way through Congress intended to remedy the recently reported delays in wait times for Veteran burials.

Over the past year, there have been reports of long delays for the interment of deceased Veterans at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemeteries in California, and elsewhere around the country. Rep. Ed Royce (CA) proposed similar legislation earlier this year in the House. Congressman Royce cited a May report by the Los Angeles Times that stated that 52 unclaimed bodies of deceased Veterans had accumulated in the Los Angeles County morgue.

Under the Senate bill, the VA would be required to track and record any burials not completed within a month, as well as what entity would be responsible for the bodies, including local medical examiners, funeral directors, and county service groups. Also, data on the burial delays would be collected in an annual report and given to Veterans’ Affairs congressional committees.

On the heels of 2014’s VA scandals and subsequent reform, many politicians and citizens will be quick to lash out at the entire VA over these claims. No one wants to see the same mistakes made by the same people. But if the reports are true, the same people would not be to blame.

Many Americans don’t know that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), headed by the secretary of the VA, is organized into three major subdivisions, called administrations. The three administrations of the VA are the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemetery Administration. The VHA is responsible for maintaining healthcare facilities and treating Veterans enrolled in VA healthcare. The VBA is responsible for accepting all VA claims and administering benefits, including claims for healthcare, disability, education benefits, and mortgage loans. The National Cemetery Administration is responsible for maintaining VA cemeteries, as well as providing memorial and burial benefits.

It is important to note that when talking about wait time problems within the VA, different administrations collectively make up the VA, and operate independently from each other. An example of this would be how the Army and the Navy both operate under the Department of Defense, but are completely different entities.

The reports of delays within the National Cemetery Administration and its system of 131 cemeteries are completely separate from the highly scandalized patient wait times within the VHA. But none the less, the reported wait times at VA cemeteries will only add to the problems that the VA is already in the process of correcting. In order to be respectful to these Veterans, the issues need to be remedied immediately and effectively.

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: Senate Bill for New VA Wait Lines: By Joe Silva

Military Connection: VA Expands Sexual Trauma Plan: By Debbie Gregory

MST

On December 1, 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced expanded eligibility for Veterans in need of mental healthcare, due to military sexual trauma (MST).

MST is the name given to any sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred to a man or woman during military service. MST could refer to rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment, but may also include any sexual activity performed against one’s will, either through physical force, threats of negative consequences, implied promotion, promises of favored treatment, or sex without consent due to intoxication.

In 2010, the American Journal of Public Health reported MST rates among U.S. Veterans returning from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be 15.1% among female Veterans and 0.7% among male Veterans. But it is widely believed that incidents of sexual trauma are largely underreported in the military community.

Under the authority given to the VA from the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, the VA will expand eligibility for Veterans in need of mental health care due to MST, to include more members of National Guard and Reserve units. This expansion gives the authority to offer Veterans the appropriate care and services needed to treat conditions resulting from MST that occurred during a period of inactive duty training.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald met last week with Ruth Moore, name giver of the Ruth Moore Act of 2013. Moore is a Navy Veteran and MST survivor who was raped twice while in the service. The Ruth Moore Act passed in the House, and is currently in the Senate, and if passed, will make provisions for MST victims, including treatment for PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Moore will be working with the VA to ensure that MST survivors are treated fairly and compassionately, and that Veterans who experienced MST have access to medical and psychological care.

The VA is working to ensure that all healthcare services are provided to assist Veterans recovering from experiences of MST. Every VA healthcare facility has an MST Coordinator who serves as a point of contact for MST-related issues.

All VA healthcare resources for mental and physical health conditions related to MST are provided free of charge. Veterans do not need to have a service-connected disability or be seeking disability compensation to be eligible for MST-related counseling and care. Veterans also do not need to have reported such incidents to the Department of Defense, or possess documentation or records to support their assertion of having experienced such trauma. And Veterans don’t need to be enrolled in the VA healthcare system to qualify for MST-related treatment.

Veterans can learn more about the VA’s MST-related services online by visiting www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp.

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: VA Expands Sexual Trauma Plan: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Extends AL-TBI Program: By Debbie Gregory

AL TBI ProgramOn October 21, 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it is accepting proposals for the extension of its Assisted Living for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (AL-TBI) pilot program.

Through the AL-TBI program, eligible wounded Veterans are placed in private sector TBI residential care facilities that specialize in neurobehavioral rehabilitation. In the care of these facilities, Veterans are offered team-based care and assisted living.

The AL-TBI pilot program was originally slated to end this year, but through the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, it has been extended through October 6, 2017. There were 187 wounded Veterans enrolled in the pilot program that was offered in 46 different facilities in 22 states.  There are currently 94 wounded Veterans still enrolled in the program.

With the VA announcing the extension of the program, opportunities are available for care providers to participate in the program. The VA is accepting proposals through November 20, 2014.

To be eligible for the AL-TBI program, contractor facilities must meet state, federal as well as local standards, and must also be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) in Residential Rehabilitation/Brain Injury Program.

Contracts for the extended program are expected to be awarded in February, 2015.

For more information about the AL-TBI Request for Proposal, visit the AL-TBI solicitation announcement on the Fed Biz Ops website, or visit www.fbo.gov

In addition to the AL-TBI extension, the VA is also in the process of the following measures:

Extending the pilot program of Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home) through March 31, 2015, and exploring additional contracting options to execute the remaining 18 months of the pilot program;

  • Awarding a contract to the MITRE Corporation, Alliance to Modernize Healthcare, a private not-for-profit company, to support the Independent Assessment of VA health care processes; and
  • Expanding the Fry Scholarship Program to include surviving spouses of service members killed on active duty.

Military Connection: VA Extends AL-TBI Program: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Expands Fry Scholarship: By Debbie Gregory

surviving spousesRecently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it will be expanding the Fry Scholarship to include surviving spouses.

The Fry Scholarship was created to honor the memory of Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry of Lorena, Texas. With only one week left in his 2006 deployment in Iraq, Sgt. Fry volunteered to continue working an additional seven hours disarming explosive devices, despite having already sustained an injury to his hand. On March 8, 2006, Sgt. Fry made the ultimate sacrifice when an improvised explosive device detonated. Fry left behind a widow and three young children.

The Fry Scholarship provides eligible children and widowed spouses of fallen service members with up to 36 months of the full equivalent of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which includes 100% tuition at state schools, a monthly housing allowance, and a stipend for books and supplies.

Surviving spouses who are eligible for or are already receiving, benefits under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program may now be eligible for the Fry Scholarship. However, all surviving spouses eligible for DEA and the Fry Scholarship must make an irrevocable election for either program, beginning on or after January 1, 2015. In other words, when a surviving spouse elects to convert to the Fry Scholarship, he or she loses all remaining DEA benefits. If a spouse elects to use DEA instead of the Fry Scholarship, he or she forfeits all future entitlement to the Fry Scholarship.

The Fry Scholarship is the latest in a series of VA measures to put in place provisions of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, also known as the “Choice Act.” Section 701 of the Choice Act expands the Fry Scholarship to include the surviving spouses of American service members who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001. Prior to the enacting of this year’s notable Veteran-friendly legislation, only the children of service members who died in the line of duty were eligible for the Fry Scholarship.

“We can never fully repay the debt we owe to these families who have lost a loved one,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said. “It is a privilege to provide educational benefits that will make a positive difference in their lives.”

The VA will identify surviving spouses who are eligible for both programs, and send them a letter with comparative information on the benefits available and instructions on how make an election that best suits their needs. Information about these two programs is available on the VA’s GI Bill website. There is also a downloadable Factsheet available. The VA call center (888-GIBILL-1) also will be able to help individuals understand the differences between the two programs.

Military Connection: VA Expands Fry Scholarship: By Debbie Gregory