Veterans Administration Matters
Veterans who have honored America with their service are entitled to a number of financial, medical, and educational benefits from the government. The process of applying to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is intended to be user-friendly and straightforward, but in practice it can be a lengthy and complex process that doesn’t always deliver the best result for applicants. An experienced VA lawyer can ensure claimants receive all the benefits they are entitled to.
There are two types of disability benefits awarded by the VA: service-connected and non-service connected. The type a veteran can apply for will depend on the nature of their disability and the event or events which caused it. Service-connected disability benefits are available to veterans with a medical issue that was caused or exacerbated by their service.
Common conditions associated with military service include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Musculoskeletal and spinal injuries
- Loss or disfigurement of a body part
- Exposure to toxic chemicals (e.g., Agent Orange)
- Depression and/or anxiety disorders
Certain conditions are presumed to be disabling by the VA, such as chronic illnesses that manifest in the first year after a veteran is discharged and any illness that results from time spent as a Prisoner of War (POW).
Non-service connected disability benefits have more stringent eligibility requirements. They are available to veterans who served in a war and are:
- 65 or older with limited income, or
- Totally or permanently disabled, or
- In a nursing home, or
- Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
The VA determines the amount of compensation to award an applicant based on a disability rating schedule which ranges from 0 to 100%. Monthly payments are typically between $100 to $3,000, depending on the severity of the disability.
VA Pension Program
Wartime veterans who are unable to work for any reason, whether connected to their military service or not, and who have limited opportunities for income may be eligible for a VA pension that supports their retirement. To be eligible, the servicemember cannot have been dishonorably discharged, must have a net worth below a certain threshold (including their spouse’s assets), and must have served at least 90 days in active duty with at least one day during wartime.
Additionally, they must meet the same eligibility requirements of non-service connected disability claimants (at least 65 years old, or permanently or totally disabled, or in a nursing home, or receiving Social Security benefits).
Free or Low-Cost Healthcare
All veterans are entitled to healthcare services at VA medical facilities, which can be found nationwide and include hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, and other healthcare settings. Independent evaluations have found that treatment at VA facilities is as good or better than the care delivered at private hospitals and clinics.
To be eligible for access to VA medical treatment, a veteran must have been in active military service for at least 24 continuous months (or the full period for which they were called to active duty) and been honorably discharged. However, the minimum duty requirement does not apply to servicemembers who were discharged prematurely as the result of disability connected to their service. Members of the Reserves or National Guard who were activated (other than for training) and completed a full period of active duty may also be eligible.
Education and Career Guidance
Returning to civilian life after a career in the military can be a difficult transition. The federal government offers several programs and benefits to assist veterans in obtaining the skills and certifications they require to succeed in the private sector.
The G.I. Bill is a federal program that helps eligible veterans pay for an education. There have been several extensions to the G.I. Bill since it first passed in the 1940s. The current iteration, sometimes called G.I. Bill 2.0, was passed in 2010 and expands eligibility to members of the National Guard who were activated at some time in their service or served full-time Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) duty. Activated Coast Guard Reservists, however, are still not eligible for G.I. educational benefits.
Recipients may receive compensation equal to the cost of any public college in their state, as well as a housing allowance and a $1,000 annual stipend for coursework materials and textbooks. Veterans who choose to attend private or out of state colleges and universities can receive up to $17,500 annually for tuition reimbursement. Housing support is covered by a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) benefit with a maximum Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) of $1,500.
Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E)
Formerly known as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, VR&E is a program for veterans with service-related disabilities that assists them in training for a suitable job outside of the military. The program offers support for resume development, job coaching, and even entrepreneurship for veterans hoping to start their own business. For veterans who are severely disabled and not capable of performing a role in traditional work environments, the VR&E program offers independent living services to assist them in participating in society with as much autonomy as possible.
Education and Career Counseling
The VA offers former servicemembers personalized counseling from trained professionals to support their career growth, decide the career they want to pursue, find training opportunities, and help them maximize their access to VA benefits. The program becomes available to servicemembers six months before their scheduled discharge from active duty and remains available for one year after the end of their service. Additionally, any servicemember eligible for a VA education benefit may avail themselves of the counseling program.
If an applicant for VA benefits is rejected (or is dissatisfied with the benefits they were awarded), they may file an appeal within one year of the VA’s decision. The appeal can come in the form of a supplemental claim that adds new evidence to support their case, a request for the claim to be evaluated by a more senior reviewer, or a formal appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, an administrative tribunal which conducts hearings and renders final decisions. An attorney is not required to apply for VA benefits or to appeal a benefit decision, but an experienced VA lawyer can significantly assist in preparing a persuasive case for maximum benefits.