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Veteran’s Benefits Expert: Debbie Burak

Veterans Expert, Debbie Burak

Debbie Burak created VeteranAid.org to provide information, free of charge, to veterans, their spouses and families. If you are a veteran, the surviving spouse of a veteran or the responsible family member of a veteran, Debbie urges you to apply for the VA Aid and Attendance Special Pension at the earliest time possible. This benefit could make the difference between a veteran or surviving spouse living in a high-quality assisted living facility or in a state-operated nursing home.

Debbie is often asked the question "why" she has taken the Veteran aid mission on. Her reason? The ending of her mother's life and her mother's waiting for the check from the VA.

Debbie comments that she hopes "that there would be a greater good that would come from this sorrow... If one veteran and their family have better choices; then she made a difference."

Questions and Answers:

Access in-depth information about veterans benefits for spouses and read some common questions and answers below to get in-depth information about VA benefits and whether you or your spouse may qualify:

Q: How does someone know if they qualify for VA benefits?

A: I recommend you turn to the Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) to have a good understanding of the benefits people are entitled to as veterans. The VA does a handbook every year for veterans and their dependents. Request the handbook by either phone or at your local VA office, as the handbook is a great starting point.

*To apply for VA health care or determine eligibility, call the VA's Health Benefits Service Center at (877) 222-VETS, or contact a Veterans Benefits Office or VA health care facility (find the nearest location at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Q: Are Army Reserves and National Guard eligible?

A: The person would need to have been to 'called-up' to service to be eligible for benefits. The Army Reserves qualifies individuals if they served during an approved period of war and were actually 'called-up' to service. National Guard are eligible to receive benefits if they are activated for federal service during a period of war or domestic emergency.

Q: How do you get military records?

A: What you'll need is the availability of discharge papers to prove eligibility for VA pension. You can request a copy from national archives: http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/standard-form-180.html 

Q: What amount of time do you need to serve to be eligible for benefits?

A: It depends on when you served. For older veterans, you need to have served 90 days active duty with one day during an approved period of war. For the most recent combat veterans, they need to have served 180 days consecutively.

Q: Are divorced spouses covered? Are there any circumstances why they wouldn't be? How do you know if you qualify for spouse of veteran benefits?

A: If the divorce was official prior to November 1st, 1991 and the veteran never remarried, the former spouse may be eligible. Even if the spouse did remarry and that marriage ended, there is still the potential the spouse may be able to file against her first husband's service. If the divorce falls after November 1st, 1991, spouses are not eligible.

Q: Do you need to be physically disabled to become eligible for VA benefits/assistance?

A: For Basic Pension, no. For the Housebound or Aid and Attendance benefit, yes. But all three levels have a financial means test. A "countable income" would have to be below the threshold that's attached with each level. Basically, if medical needs deplete your income, you qualify. See the attached PDF on"Countable Income"for more information.

Q: Can applications be expedited? What's the difference between applications for pensions and benefits?

A: All is the same process. You're still applying for approved monthly income. Any veteran who is 70 years and older, as is the widow, is entitled to request expedited processing for their application. With advanced age, the request carries more weight.

Examples of different benefits:

Basic Pension: Basic Pension is designed to function as cash assistance for low income veterans and their dependents, so applicants may be healthy, but must have a very low income

Housebound Benefit: Housebound assistance with day-to-day activities must be needed on a "regular basis"

Aid and Attendance: Assistance must be required on a "daily basis"

Q: When you're not having any luck reaching the VA in the middle of the application process - what is the best course of action? Contacting a senator? Getting a lawyer? Can you recommend any successful techniques to get things moving?

A: Depending on where the process is, I recommend different actions. Have you received anything in the mail, for example?

  1. If you're before the 6-month period, call the VA midweek, later in the day to avoid peak calling times. Just keep redialing and redialing. Do not involve an attorney. Anything before 6 months would be considered premature, so justbe patient.
  2. After 6 months has passed and no decision or award has been made, you can contact a senator or congress person in the application state (where veteran or widow resides) to make a congressional inquiry and fax a letter to act on behalf of the applicant. If there is a financial hardship, you can request for expediting.

Q: What are the asset limitations when applying for health care benefits?

A: $80k is a general rule-of-thumb, but for those with more assets, they could still be eligible. Applicants with an excess of $80k-depending on their age and monthly expenses-could still be eligible. Contact the VA office or check the handbook for more info on eligibility.

Meet Debbie Burak with VeteranAid.org:

 

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