Defining a veteran & benefits in Grand Junction, Colorado
SEVEN UNIFORMED SERVICES OF THE UNITED STATES:
United States Army (includes Guard and Reserve)
United States Marine Corps (includes Reserve)
United States Navy (includes Reserve)
United States Air Force (includes Guard and Reserve)
United States Coast Guard (includes Reserve)
United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (Formerly the Survey Corps)
Note: The Survey Corps was put in uniform after several members were shot as spies when captured by enemy forces.
GATEWAYS TO THE VETERANS HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
There are three primary gateways to qualify for VHA provided health care:
Service-Connected Disability: A SCD is any medical condition, physical or mental, related to your military service that negatively impacts your life today. A few examples are hearing loss, ringing in ears, scars that limit movement, facial scars, PTSD, repetitive-use injuries, military specialty related conditions, nightmares, injuries from training or combat. Reservists and National Guardsmen who were injured while on a drill weekend, annual training or while traveling to and from training are encouraged to file for a SCD.
There is no minimum time in service requirement for SCD.
Agent Orange Exposure has a special SCD list.
The deadline for filing for certain healthcare issues related to Desert Storm has been extended.
Note: Many veterans think applying for a SCD is the same as applying for VA Health Care. While a service-connected disability of 10 percent fully qualifies a veteran for VA health care, enrolling is a separate action.
LIMITED OR SPECIAL PROGRAMS
Examples include: Vietnam “Boots on the Ground”(includes a few surrounding countries); Vietnam “Brown Water Navy;” Korean DMZ, April 1968 to August 1971; former POW status; Purple Heart recipient; Project 112/SHAD participants; veterans who received combat or hazard pay after Nov. 11, 1998 can enroll for five years after discharge; and Camp Lejuene, 1957 to 1987.
This is based on gross household Income, zip code, number of dependents, and service time. Use VA Form 10-10EZ.
There are a few other seldom-seen ways to qualify for VHA health care. One of them is catastrophic disability. Examples of this would be a non-service connected double amputation or post-military service spinal cord injury. These cases are considered on a case-by-case basis.
DEFINING A VETERAN
A veteran is anyone Congress states has veteran status. In addition to members of the seven United States Uniformed Services, this can include groups like the Merchant Marines (who served during World War II) or individuals (such as Dr. Mary Walker, who served during the American Civil War).
The last time Congress granted veteran status to anyone outside the uniformed services was in the 1970s, when members of the Army’s Women Air Forces Service Pilots (WASPS) were formally granted veteran status for their service during WWII.
Today, veteran status is granted to anyone who was discharged from one of the seven services. Benefits, however, are based on how long the veteran served the status of their discharge, and in many cases the circumstances of their individual service. For example, a Iraqi combat veteran may have more benefits than a veteran who never left the continental United States even though they enlisted on the same date and for the same time period.
WHAT ARE MY BENEFITS?
As you read through this guide, you are going to see words like “might,” “may” and “encouraged” quite often.
That’s because there is no easy answer to the question: “What are my benefits?”
Each veteran’s situation is unique; and two veterans can have enlisted one day apart, served in the exact same stations and assignments, but will have vastly different benefits because of that one day difference in their service.
For instance, to qualify for health care most veterans who reported for basic training on Oct. 15, 1981 only have had to complete one day of service and receive an honorable discharge as long as they qualify under one of the three major gateways to VA health care. A veteran who reported on Oct. 16, 1981, however, will normally need to have served 24 months to receive the same status.
National Guardsmen and Reservists have different rules. To receive health care, for instance, they must have served the period they were called to federal, active-duty (other than for training), whether one day or a few years; and they must have received an honorable discharge. In this case, training is normally defined as a formal school or course such as basic training.
Home loans are another good example: a veteran still on active duty just needs to have completed 90 days of continuous service prior to the application, while a veteran who is still with a Reserve or Guard unit and has never been called to federal status could need up to six years service. Other veterans, depending on their era of service, have requirements of 90 days, 180 days or two years.
I WAS IN THE GUARD AND RESERVE ONLY; DO I HAVE BENEFITS?
Veterans should never assume they “do” or “do not” get a specific benefit or that they have the same requirements as active-duty veterans.
For instance, while a Reserve or Guard soldier who has never been called to federal service may not be eligible to qualify for VA medical care under the income threshold program, that veteran might have a service-connected disability and thus qualify. In other cases, such as home loans, the veteran just has to have served a longer time period to qualify.
CAN MY BENEFITS BE ‘CANCELLED?’
Very few things can impact a veteran’s benefits post-discharge.
Among them are:
Fleeing or wanted felon status;
Incarceration for more than 30 days (normally benefits can be restored when the incarcerated veteran is released);
Conviction as a sexual offender, which can exclude veterans from specific programs; and
A felony homicide conviction, which can prevent burial in a National Cemetery and some state cemeteries.
NOTE: Some programs do have an expiration date.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE?
The VA’s website, http://www.va.gov, has details on most federal benefits. In addition, the Federal Benefits for Veterans Dependents and Survivors handbook is an excellent resource. These handbooks are updated and printed each spring. There are also numerous single-subject publications that give details on individual programs, such as caregivers, suicide prevention and the HUD/VASH housing for homeless veterans.
Many states, counties and some cities have unique benefits available only to their residents. To learn more about them, it is recommended veterans visit a veterans-service officer or veterans-service organization in their area.
WHAT ABOUT MY DEPENDENTS?
Dependents and survivors benefits are limited. The important thing to remember is these benefits must be requested. It doesn’t matter how qualified a dependent or survivor is; if the paperwork isn’t complete, no benefit will be given.
In most cases, the survivor must have been married to the veteran for at least one year prior to death and may not be divorced from the veteran at the time of death.
Under some circumstances, veterans with dependents receiving compensation for a service-connected disability or a war-time pension might be eligible for a little more money in their monthly check.
It’s best to ensure that all the required documents, marriage and birth certificates, etc., are included when making a service-connected disability claim or pension request as it can take up to two years to add a dependent if they are not on the initial request.
For veterans who are 100-percent service connected, their children, up to age 26, might be eligible for assistance with their college expenses. The same is true if the veteran died either of a rated service-connected disability or had a 100-percent SCD at the time they died.
Veterans who are either 100-percent SCD or who are paid at the 100-percent rate should look into CHAMP VA. It’s a health insurance program that is also available for children of Vietnam veterans born with spina bifida.
Survivors married to veteran at the time of death, as well as eligible dependents, may be buried in national veterans cemeteries and certain state veterans cemeteries.
Cremated remains are buried or inured in national cemeteries in the same manner. It is important to remember that national and most state cemetery directors have the right to refuse interment under specific conditions, such as the survivor having been convicted of homicide.
Other common benefits for veterans’ survivors include Dependents Indemnity Compensation, which is given to a widow if the veteran dies of a SCD or while rated with at 100-percent “total and permanent” SCD. Children under 18 may be eligible for DIC in their own right if the veteran was widowed or divorced at the time of death.
War-Time Widow(ers)s pension is another benefit available to some survivors. These pensions are granted to veterans survivors on very limited gross monthly incomes (generally under $700 a month).
The rules on these pensions are complex, and it is highly recommended anyone requesting one seek assistance from a skilled veteran-service officer.
HOW DOES MY DISCHARGE STATUS IMPACT MY BENEFITS?
Normally, only veterans who have a discharge of “Honorable” or “Under Honorable Conditions” are eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits. There are a few exceptions. The most common is for veterans who have filed for and receive a service-connected disability. In these cases, the veteran can be seen for the condition(s) they have been awarded a SCD rating.
In recent years, many veterans — particularly those who served in Vietnam, Desert Storm and early operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — have filed paperwork wit the Department of Defense to have their discharges upgraded from Dishonorable and Other Than Honorable because they believe the military failed to recognize they were suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at the time they were discharged. Many of these Veterans have been successful.
In addition, there is a commonly held myth, that a General discharge, honorable or otherwise, is automatically upgraded to fully Honorable six months after the veteran is discharged from military service. This is not true; any upgrade has to be requested by the veteran. A veteran’s next-of-kin can also request an upgrade if the veteran is deceased.
‘NEW’ DISCHARGE UPGRADES & PTSD
On September 3, 2014, the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum providing guidance to the Military Department Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR) as they carefully consider each and every petition brought regarding under other than honorable conditions discharge upgrade requests by veterans claiming Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This includes a comprehensive review of all materials and evidence provided by the applicant.
This policy guidance is intended to ease the application process for veterans who are seeking redress and assist the boards in reaching fair and consistent results in these cases. The guidance also mandates liberal waivers of time limits, ensures timely consideration of petitions, and allows for increased involvement of medical personnel in board determinations.
The new guidance provides that liberal consideration will be given by Military Department Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR) in petitions for changes in characterization of service. The supplemental guidance outlines specifically what type of records and evidence will be given special and liberal consideration by the boards. The board does not have access to the applicant’s health record. If an applicant wants their service health records or VA health records considered, the applicant must provide it. For information on requesting health records, call the VA toll free number at 1-800-827-1000 to identify the current location of specific health records and to find out how to obtain releasable documents or
SERVICE-CONNECTED DISABILITY COMPENSATION
Most veterans who say they get a VA pension are actually receiving compensation for injury or illness related to their military service. This payment in based on how severely their quality of life is impacted by the medical condition. As stated earlier, these rating run from zero percent, which has no monetary compensation, to 100 percent (total and permanent and unemployable), which comes with the maximum compensation and related benefits.
Compensation Claims are now filed on a VA Form 21-526EZ. This new form is much simpler to fill out and comes with fairly clear instructions.
There are now two paths a claim can follow. If all the required information is provided, the award is sent through the fully developed claim process and decisions are normally made within a year of submission. If information or evidence is missing, the claim is routed through the standard process which can take 24 to 30 months. Awards are retroactive to the date the Veterans Benefits Administration receives the application.
There are various benefits connected with certain SCD ratings, including:
Zero Percent: Veteran can only be treated for the rated condition unless he qualifies under another program.
10 Percent: Veteran is fully eligible for VA provided medical care, but would probably have co-pays for medications.
30 Percent: Veteran is eligible for travel pay for all appointments, not just those connected to the SCD. Veteran is also eligible for a slightly higher compensation if he is married or has dependents under 18.
50 Percent: Veteran no longer has medication co-pays
60 Percent: A veteran can be declared unemployable because of his SCD. If declared unemployable, veteran is paid at a higher rate, but may not be employed.
100 Percent: This has several additional benefits, which may include medical coverage for spouses and certain dependents if the rating continues at 100 percent for more than 10 years.
100 Percent Total and Permanent: Veterans SCD rating will not be reviewed or reduced under normal circumstances.
100 Percent Unemployable: Veteran receives a higher rate of compensation, but may not hold a job.
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