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Top Veteran's Benefits Questions Answered

By Dana LarsenJune 7, 2012
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A Place for Mom recently discovered how many of our readers have been struggling through the veteran’s benefit process. Our Memorial Day newsletter generated literally hundreds of questions to ask VA expert, Debbie Burak, who is on a mission to help families have more retirement choices.

We recently learned that the veteran’s application used to only be 4 pages long with clear, easy-to-understand instructions. Nowadays, however, the application is 20+ pages with a lot of confusing legal jargon that can make the process a lot more difficult for veterans and their families. Not to mention, the process can take months—which is sometimes too long when immediate decisions and financing are necessary in seniors’ lives.

Having access to VA benefit resources for both veterans and their spouses is something our nation needs to work on. After all, these seniors served their country.

Veteran’s Benefits Process: A Great Cause Creates a Worthy Mission

A Place for Mom recently partnered with Debbie Burak, founder of VeteranAid.org. As a senior veteran advocate, Debbie started her website to provide information, free of charge, to veterans, their spouses and their families. She discovered that too many people—including her own family—were not getting the veteran information and resources they needed in a timely manner.

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 (learn about the different types of veteran’s benefits). 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.

Top VA Benefit Questions:

Here are the top veteran’s benefit questions, consolidated by A Place for Mom and answered by Debbie Burak. Hopefully this information can assist your families in the VA benefit process and help provide extra financing for golden years’ enjoyment and necessities:

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

Debbie Burak: 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: Does marital status increase (or impact in any way) the amount of pension you might get as a disabled veteran?

DB: Simple answer – Only if both require assistance. If the veteran and the spouse require the assistance of someone for their day-to-day living, then, yes, there is the increase to $2019 a month. If the veteran’s spouse does not need assistance, he would file as a single veteran and get $1703 a month. In the event the veteran is still independent, but the spouse is ill, the veteran can file as a Vet if the spouse’s medical expenses completely deplete their combined monthly income.

Q: Do you need to visit a VA doctor or can you visit any doctor for an evaluation?

DB: It’s your choice. You can see your private care physician/family care doctor. If you are already receiving all your care through a VA medical facility, you can obviously take that route. It doesn’t matter.

Q: Are there any benefits for veterans who didn’t serve during wartime?

DB: This can be a confusing question. You may have not served during wartime, but could’ve be injured and qualify for a different compensation. There are benefits, but those are not necessarily going to be applicable for VA and Attendance pension. Refer to the handbook and the approved periods of war to see whether you’re eligible.

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?

DB: 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.

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Q: Is there a one-time “death benefit” or burial benefit that goes to children or family members?

DB: There are funeral reimbursements that are available. Go to: www.cem.va.gov for burial and memorial benefits to see if you’re eligible.

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

DB: 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?

DB: 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 just be 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: Is a veteran who is incarcerated or convicted of a crime still eligible for benefits? What about a veteran who was dishonorably discharged? 

DB: Benefits are reduced for those with a felony or a prison sentence of more than 60 days. And no, you are not eligible if you’re dishonorably discharged, but if discharge was for discrimination based on sexual orientation, or other kinds of discrimination, vets can apply to have their discharge upgraded.

 Q: Are spouses entitled to graveside plaques from the VA, or are the plaques just for the veterans?

DB: There are certain allowance for spouses and dependent children. Visit www.cem.va.gov for burial and memorial benefits to see if you’re eligible.

Dana Larsen