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VA Benefits – A Little of the Old and a Little of the New

By  Trish Hughes Kreis, Staff Writer 

 

The gratitude we give to the honorable and brave men and women serving our country would be incomplete if we did not also extend that gratitude to their families.  Families have long been the backbone of support for our service men and women during both their active duty and after.  The VA provides numerous programs for veterans and now their caregivers. Many programs have been around for quite some time and others have recently been enacted. 

A little known program provided by the VA is the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit.   This can be a huge help to veterans and their families.

  1. What is it?  The Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit is the highest level of the Pension Benefit awarded and can provide extra monetary assistance if the veteran needs help with dressing, bathing, cooking or eating.  This is paid in addition to the veteran’s monthly pension.  There is also a “Housebound” Pension program, but benefits for both programs cannot be received at the same time. The Housebound Pension program is also paid in addition to the veteran’s monthly pension, but is at a lower rate than the Aid and Attendance Program and has different requirements for eligibility. 
  2. Who is eligible?   Any war-time veteran with 90 days of active duty (only one of which needs to begin or end during war-time) may be eligible for the Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit. A surviving spouse of a war-time veteran may also be eligible. (The Housebound Pension Program has different requirements for qualifying.)  Please visit the Web site of the Department of Veterans Affairs for more detailed information about qualifying for these benefits (http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/pension/vetpen.htm#7).  
  3. Where do I start?  If you think you or your spouse may be eligible for these benefits, do not be daunted by the lengthy application process.  The benefits under the Aid and Attendance Pension program are vastly under utilized and will be worth any difficulty in applying.  An excellent resource for information on this program and the documents needed to complete the application is the VeteranAid.org group.  The information available to help with the application process is detailed and thorough and can be found at http://www.veteranaid.org/apply.php.  It is necessary to apply for the benefits at the regional office having jurisdiction over your claim, which is the same office where the original pension benefits claim was filed.  A list of regional offices can be found at http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/ro/rocontacts.htm.
  4. What happens next?  Unfortunately, this process can take four to six months (or even longer).  However, if the person applying for the benefits is 70 years or older, the application can be expedited and should be, but be sure to request it. In the event the benefits are denied, there is an appeals process.  Mistakes occasionally happen, so it is highly recommended to appeal the decision if the benefits are denied.  It can’t hurt and you have nothing to lose.  A pamphlet explaining the appeals process can be obtained at any VA Regional office or online at http://www.bva.va.gov/docs/Pamphlets/010202A.pdf.  It is important to note a Notice of Disagreement is the first step in an appeal and must be filed within one year of the date the local VA mails you the original decision denying your claim.  Extra help may be needed during the appeals process, so please consider using an attorney or another skilled representative to assist you with your claim. 

Recently enacted legislation has also brought long-awaited help for caregivers of veterans.  Changes in the VA benefits for post 9/11 veterans include numerous services for both veterans and their caregivers.

  1. Where do I start?  There are two ways to get information about the services you may qualify for.  Visit the US Department of Veterans Affairs Web site for caregivers at www.caregiver.va.gov.  Also, the toll-free VA Caregiver Support Line at 855-260-3274 provides assistance and operates every day except Sunday.
  2. Who is eligible?  Eligible veterans must have sustained a serious injury in the line of duty after 9/11 and must need assistance for one or more personal care activities due to neurological impairment or injury.  Veterans must also be enrolled for VA health services (if you are not already enrolled, please visit www.va.gov/healtheligibility/application to enroll now).
  3. What services are available?  Numerous services, as well as monetary assistance, are available once eligibility has been established.  These include a monthly stipend (early applicants have already started receiving their checks this month).  Also, money is available for travel expenses while accompanying veterans to appointments for care and treatment (including a per diem allowance and lodging).  Mental health services and counseling are available as is caregiver training (which is provided by Easter Seals, a leader in caring for the disabled).  Another service available is respite care which would allow a break for the caregiver by providing a professional caregiver to care for the veteran for up to 30 days per year.
  4. How do I apply?  To see if you may qualify, please visit www.va.gov/healtheligibility/caregiver to answer four brief questions.  At the end of the questionnaire, you will be directed to the full application.  The application for eligibility can also be directly accessed at https://www.1010ez.med.va.gov/sec/vha/1010ez/Form/10-10CG.pdf.  Caregiver Support Coordinators are available at every VA medical center to assist with the application process and to answer questions about the benefits available as well as the application process itself.  Additional assistance is available by calling the toll-free number 877-222-VETS (8387). 
  5. What happens next?  Within three days of filing the initial application, the Caregiver Support Coordinator will arrange for the veteran’s caregiver to complete the application and will coordinate the caregiver training.  An assessment will be done to determine the veteran’s needs and what assistance is needed with daily living activities.  The caregiver then completes the training.  They even have training available (either online or through a self-study book and DVD) which can be completed at home. Caregivers know it can be difficult to leave their loved one for even a short amount of time, so this home study option is an example of how well thought out the program is.  There is a home visit after the training and once that has been completed and everything has been approved, the monthly stipend will start arriving. For those who applied soon after this program started in May, the stipends were already arriving in July.  The earlier you apply, the quicker the benefits will be available.

Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.  The government has made these benefits available to veterans and their caregivers so they will be used.  The country is indebted to our veterans and these programs are available to help.  There are many ways to thank a veteran for his or her service (personally saying thanks or buying them a cup of coffee, for instance) but providing care to both the veteran and their caregiver is, by far, the most thanks we can give as a country.

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