What Is the Minimum Credit Score for a VA Loan?

Drawing of cell phones showing different credit scores with their ratings

Many lenders require your credit score to be above a certain number before they’ll issue you a VA loan. And they’re allowed to do that.

But there isn’t a minimum credit score for VA loan qualification according to the VA’s guidelines, so Low VA Rates chooses not to require one. We can, and often do, work with veterans who have very low credit scores.

Good and Bad Credit Scores

To refresh your memory, the lowest possible credit score is 300, and the highest is 850. Lenders often rate scores like this:

  • <550: Bad
  • 550–649: Poor
  • 650–699: Fair
  • 700–749: Good
  • 750+: Excellent

We know that some veterans with low scores have just had financial trouble in the past, but they’re now able and willing to pay their debts. And some veterans just haven’t had a chance to build a credit history yet.

Because of these reasons, we’ve chosen to help them instead of just turning them away for a loan.

How to Improve Your Credit Score

Of course, we’re still aware of borrowers’ credit scores, and there’s a cost to a low score: you probably won’t be able to get the best interest rates, which leads to higher monthly payments.

Some borrowers choose to work on improving their credit score before taking out a mortgage—even if it takes a year or two. You’re going to pay off a house over many years, so it can benefit you to have lower payments over that whole period.

And we’ll definitely work with you any time you’d like to get a quote! And, if we find out your credit score doesn’t qualify you for the interest rate you’d want, we’ll work with you directly to help raise it, even if it means waiting a while before you can get a mortgage from us.

But, in the meantime, if you’re not quite ready to call in and talk with a loan officer, here are five tips that can help you start raising your score now:

  1. Never be late on debt payments
  2. Keep low or zero balances on credit cards
  3. Only get one new line of credit at a time
  4. Pay off debts as soon as possible, beginning with the one that has the highest interest rate
  5. Order your credit report once a year and fight any mistakes in it

One thing to note is that, even if you follow these pieces of advice exactly, you might not see an improvement to your credit score for several months. This is especially true for paying off a debt.

The reason for this delay is that it can sometimes take a few months for the credit bureaus to remove that debt from your credit report. But we promise, if you follow these steps, it will happen!

Even if you don’t have any kind of credit history, these five pieces of advice still apply, though in a slightly different way. Essentially what you’ll want to do is get a single credit card and follow these five guidelines in how you use that card.

Doing so will help you start building a positive credit history, and once you’ve developed good habits with one card, you could apply for another one, and so on, to keep that positive credit data growing.

How Low VA Rates Can Help Those with Low Credit Scores

We specialize in loans for veterans. If you talk with one of our loan specialists—some who are veterans like you—he or she will look at several factors in your background.

One of the first and most important is your honorable military service is first. The next important qualification is the stability of your income, which can be from a job, VA disability payments, or investments.

They’ll also help you add up all your expenses, including debt payments and the potential VA loan, to make sure you’ll have enough money left over at the end of each month. This is a VA guideline, which helps the VA loan program to be safer for you and for all veterans.

And, while they’ll also look at your credit score, we know that a high credit score doesn’t always guarantee that someone can handle a new mortgage because their situation may have changed.

We also know the opposite is true, so even if you have a low credit score, you can qualify for a good VA loan as long as you can show your willingness and ability to afford and pay for it.

So, whether you choose to improve your credit score first or you want to buy your home right away, Low VA Rates will be here to help.

Why Doesn’t the VA Loan Money

Why Doesn’t the VA Loan Money Directly?

 

Many borrowers are confused to discover that the “VA loan program” consists of private lenders offering money to private borrowers, with little perceivable involvement by the VA. While it’s true that the VA doesn’t do the actual money-lending, the VA is still heavily involved in the VA loan program, and it is, in fact, the VA’s involvement that makes the VA loan program possible and so advantageous to veterans. In this article, we’re going to cover the main reasons why the VA doesn’t loan money directly, plus a couple of reasons that we should all be glad they don’t.

 

The VA Loan Program is Taxpayer-Funded

Depending on your political views, this may not seem like much of a problem, but the VA gets its funds for the VA loan program from the taxpayers, and it would be insanely expensive for the VA to personally offer all of the loans for all VA borrowers. To put this in perspective, consider that in 2014 alone, the total loans made (new purchase and refinance) came to a total of over $99 billion, which is what the VA would be on the hook for if they were the ones who were making the loans. Under the current model, which is where the VA offers a guaranty to the lender, they are on the hook for just over $25 billion, and that’s only if every single VA borrower defaulted on their loan. Considering that only a very small number of borrowers default on their loans, and that cost is offset by each borrower paying a reasonable Funding Fee, the annual cost of the VA loan program drops significantly below $25 billion.

 

It Would be a Logistical Nightmare

As if the sheer cost of making the loans wouldn’t be enough, the VA would also have to have loan offices and a system of handling foreclosures, short sales, and other issues with homes.They would have to employ a significant number of loan officers, underwriters, and processors to cover all of the VA loan volume across the country, and they would incur all the overhead that private lenders incur combined. Not to mention, there rises an immense conflict-of-interest as the VA fights to serve two opposing priorities: make the VA loan program as beneficial as possible at the same time as making the loan package attractive enough to buyers. How many VA borrowers do you think the VA could foreclose on before the lawsuits started happening and the VA loan program got a bad name.

 

We Don’t Want the VA to Offer the Loans

The VA guarantee is what makes the VA loan program so beneficial anyway. It’s the VA’s willingness to cover some of the lenders loss if the borrower defaults on the home that makes lenders willing to offer such great terms. Being able to choose which lender to go with helps weed out the bad lenders and strengthen the good ones over time, and VA borrowers aren’t stuck with only one option. The recent scandals involving VA medical centers should be a strong indicator that it is not always best for the government to be the exclusive provider of a service. The way the VA loan program is currently set up, it is always, without fail, beneficial to the borrower to use instead of the conventional loan program. If the VA were to start making loans and doing the entire VA loan program on their own, there would be many cases where the benefit stops being beneficial and starts being harmful. This is exactly the thing we all want the VA to avoid.

 

Conclusion

Not only is it OK that the VA doesn’t offer VA loans directly, it’s preferable this way. Veterans still get all the benefits that the VA can reasonably offer through the program, and the VA’s costs are kept much lower and simpler at the same time. It’s a win-win situation. Whenever possible, it’s best for the government to let the market take control and naturally run its course, and the VA loan program is no different. By stepping back, offering a set of benefits and letting private lenders and borrowers do their thing, the VA creates a very powerful benefit at relatively low taxpayer expense.

 

College Benefits for Military Service Members and Veterans

 

College Benefits for Military Servicemembers and VeteransObviously, the veterans benefit that we like the best here at Low VA Rates is the VA loan program, but even though it’s our favorite, it’s far from the only benefit out there. One of the most valuable and popular benefits that the VA has to offer its veterans is the GI Bill. The GI Bill helps servicemembers and veterans pay for higher education and training to help them improve their lives and find better employment and advancement opportunities in the private sector, both during and after military service. There are two GI Bills that a veteran may be entitled to: there is the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB), and the Post 9/11 GI Bill. You may have heard the MGIB referred to as “Chapter 30” benefits and the Post 9/11 GI Bill referred to as “Chapter 33”. The available benefits with each GI Bill are very different.

 

If you’re eligible for both the MGIB and the Post 9/11 GI Bill, chances are you’ve already been required to decide which one you would like to receive. A veteran is only able to choose one. If you’re having a hard time choosing, this guide is the perfect place for you to be. As you probably have guessed, the primary factor in determining which GI bill is available to you is whether you served pre or post 9/11/2001. Those who were already serving before 9/11 and continued to serve after are those who have their pick of either benefit. Each GI Bill also has its own eligibility requirements and education and training that it can be used for. We’re going to cover the eligibility requirements and benefits of the Montgomery GI Bill first, then cover the requirements and benefits of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The sections are clearly labeled, so feel free to jump to whichever section applies to you.

 

The Montgomery GI Bill

 

Eligibility Requirements

 

The MGIB is different from the post 9/11 GI Bill in that it requires the veteran to contribute $100 per month for the first 12 months that the veteran is in active duty. Alternatively, if the veteran paid into the Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) instead, then they can convert the funds contributed to VEAP to the MGIB. The VEAP is no longer around, and like the MGIB, it expires 10 years after discharge on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. In addition to the $1,200 buy-in to the program, the MGIB also requires that the veteran has either completed high school or has an equivalency certificate such as a GED before the veteran can apply for benefits. The MGIB is for higher education, and as such, requires that the veteran has already completed primary education.

 

As touched on above, the MGIB benefits expire 10 years after discharge, which means you have 10 years to use your benefits or you lose them. To be clear, any amount remaining after 10 years is lost to you, so if you were planning on using all 8 semesters of benefits, you’d need to start before the end of the 6th year after discharge (2 semesters per year). In addition to losing the benefit after 10 years, you will not receive a refund for the initial contribution of $1,200.

 

Applying for the MGIB is a fairly simple process. First, you need to find a school that has VA-approved courses, degree programs, or other training. Generally speaking, if the school is either regionally or nationally accredited, it probably has VA approved programs. Second, you’ll need to fill out the VA Form 22-1990, the Application for Education Benefits. If you can’t print one out using the link here, the school’s registrar office probably has a few on hand or can print one out for you. Third, you need to send in your application to the VA regional office. Chances are, the school will be willing to take care of this for you, but if you haven’t decided on a school yet, you can always send it in yourself. After a few weeks (4-8), you should receive a Declaration of Eligibility from the VA that shows and explains your GI Bill benefits. You may be required to provide more information to the VA. If that is the case, they will clearly explain what they need and how you can get it.

 

Additionally, once you are approved for benefits, in order to begin using them, you’ll need to use the VA’s Web Automated Verification of Eligibility (WAVE) every single month that you want to receive a payment. Going through WAVE only takes a few minutes, but you’ll need to do it every month in order to receive a check. You will not receive a check for that month until you have gone through WAVE.

 

Benefits and Advantages

 

The Montgomery GI Bill is more flexible of the two GI BIll options. You can use the MGIB for traditional colleges and universities, but you can also use it for technical and vocational courses and programs, as well as distance learning, professional certifications, and apprenticeships or job training. If you have a specific question about whether a program or course you are interested in would be covered by the MGIB, give your VA regional office a call and they should be able to help you out. The MGIB is often looked-down upon as the less-awesome predecessor of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and while the Post 9/11 GI bill is better in many respects, the MGIB is still a fantastic benefit that can really make the difference for a veteran’s future.

 

For full-time training and education, as of October 1, 2014, the monthly payment rate is $1,717. If you multiply that by the 36-month limit on the benefits, that means that the MGIB is worth $61,812 to you. That’s no laughing matter. That is enough to completely cover a great deal of degrees and programs. That number will vary depending on what type of training you are doing – if  you are doing an apprenticeship or flight training, the numbers are different. Check here for a comprehensive listing of the current rates. Not only that, but you may actually get more if you signed up for the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps College Fund. Even for those who did not sign up for the College Fund, you may be eligible for the GI Bill Buy-up. If you make a one-time payment before starting to use your benefits, you can increase your monthly payments by 25% of your one-time payment. In other words, if you pay $100 once in a buy-up, then go to school full-time, you will get $25 more each month for the full 36 months. Ask any investor if paying $100 and getting back $900 is a good return on investment. You can pay as much as $600 in your buy-up, which gets you $150 per month more each month. For $600,  you can get $5,400. In order to be eligible for the Buy-up, you have to have joined the military after June 30, 1985, and still be on active duty. You must elect to contribute the amount before you separate, and do so using form DD-2366-1. When you start to use your MGIB benefits, you’ll need to work with the VA to make sure they get the information they need.

 

Post-9/11 GI Bill

 

Eligibility Requirements

 

Different from the MGIB, the Post-9/11 GI Bill does not require any sort of buy-in or payment during the first year of service. Veterans and active service members are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill if they have put in 90 days of active duty after September 10, 2001. This is the case for those in the active military, and also includes any time spent on an order to active duty from the National Guard or the Reserves. Also, time spent by National Guard members organizing, administering, recruiting, instructing, or training the National Guard, or responding to a national emergency counts towards the Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility requirements.

 

As with every rule, there are exceptions. Time spent in ROTC, on a service academy contract period, service that was terminated due to defective enlistment agreement, service used for loan repayment, and selected reserve service that was used to establish eligibility for the MGIB or REAP are all not able to be used to establish eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The VA also allows that a veteran who was discharged due to a service-connected disability only need have 30 days of continuous active duty service after September 10, 2001. Unless discharged due to a service-connected disability, the veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty, and any of the following possibilities:

 

  • Be honorably discharged from Armed Forces; or
  • Be released from Armed Forces with service characterized as honorable and placed on the retired list, temporary disability retired list, or transferred to the Fleet Reserve or the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve; or
  • Be released from the Armed Forces with service characterized as honorable for further service in a reserve component; or
  • Be discharged or released from Armed Forces for:
    • EPTS (Existed Prior to Service)
    • HDSP (Hardship) or
    • CIWD (Condition Interfered with Duty); or
    • Continue to be on active duty.

 

In addition to eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill in general, there are specific benefits inside the Bill that you may or may not be eligible for depending on your current status. There are 7 ‘pieces’ of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and your eligibility for the individual pieces will depend on whether you’re active duty, an eligible Guard or Selected Reserve member, or a veteran. The 7 pieces of the Post-9/11 GI Bill are as follows: Tuition and Fees, Monthly Living Stipend, Book Stipend, Transfer Benefits, Yellow Ribbon Program, Relocation, and Licensing and Certification. As an active duty service member, you are only eligible for four of the seven pieces: tuition and fees, book stipend, transferring your benefits, and Licensing and Certification. For eligible Guard or Selected Reserve members, all 7 pieces are available, though in order to be eligible for the monthly living stipend, you must be taking full-time school and not currently be on active duty. The same is true for veterans, who are also (sort of) eligible for all 7 pieces.

 

A veteran is eligible for the monthly living stipend under the same terms as an Eligible Guard or Reserve member, and is eligible to transfer their benefits as long as they are still serving in the military. It’s important to realize that one cannot be eligible for the monthly living stipend and transferring their benefits to a spouse or dependent at the same time, as one requires you to not be on active duty and the other requires you to be. In the following section, we’ll cover all 7 pieces of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and explain the benefits associated with each piece and how they work.

 

Benefits and Advantages

 

Tuition and Fees: For eligible servicemembers and veterans, the GI Bill will pay the entirety of your tuition and fees directly to the school depending on how many months of active service you have since September of 2001. The GI Bill will pay up to the full amount of tuition and fees, but not more than that, and the checks will go directly to the school as payment rather than going through you. The VA uses the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate as the limit that it will cover for the veteran. For a veteran wanting to attend school out-of-state, or attend a private university or other institution that is more expensive than a public university in-state, then that amount will have to be covered either by the veteran themselves or through the Yellow Ribbon Program.

 

Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP): The YRP program is something that schools partner with the VA to provide to some students who need extra help to avoid all out-of-pocket costs from going to school. For those students eligible, if the institution you are attending is willing to work with the VA to share the expense on your behalf, you can get extra help with the costs of going to school. To be eligible for the YRP, you need to meet one of the following criteria:

  • Served an aggregate period of active duty after September 10, 2001, of at least 36 months
  • Were honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability and have served a minimum of 30 continuous days after September 10, 2001
  • Are a dependent eligible for Transfer of Entitlement under the Post-9/11 GI Bill based on a veteran’s service under the eligibility criteria listed above

 

The school you are attending must agree with the VA to waive 50% of the portion of the cost that exceeds the highest in-state public undergraduate tuition, and the VA agrees to pay the other 50%. Nothing forces the institution to cooperate or participate in the YRP, and the only reason an institution would do so is as a favor to our nation’s veterans. If you’re planning on attending an out-of-state school or private institution, you should check with them to see if they are willing to participate in the YRP on your behalf.

 

Monthly Housing Stipend: This is an awesome benefit for those who have already been discharged from active service or who are currently serving in the Guard or Reserves and have served long enough to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Through the monthly housing stipend, you can receive a substantial amount of money each month to help pay for your housing expenses. The amount you will receive is based on the zip code in which the school you are attending resides. Note, this is not the zip code in which you live. Weird, but there you go. The VA uses the DoD’s Basic Allowance for Housing for an E-5 with dependents, and the average amount is $1,509 per month.

 

For those attending school completely online, you are still eligible for a housing stipend, but it will be exactly half of the national average, which is $754.50 for 2015. While going to school online does not change the fact that you have to live somewhere, the VA assumes that a student attending school online has more flexibility to choose which zip code you live in, and therefore wants to provide an incentive to choose the cheapest zip code available to you.

 

Book/Supply Stipend: The book stipend is paid out to you at the beginning of each term (usually a semester), and you get paid $41 per credit hour for books, with a maximum payout of $1,000 per year. Theoretically, that should be enough for your books and materials for two full-time (12 credits) semesters. It really is a fair amount of money, and if you work hard to get used copies of as many of your books as possible, you should be able to save some of the $1k or do more than 12 credits without exceeding it. The other great thing about the book stipend is that anyone who is eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill is eligible for the book stipend.

 

Benefit Transferability: Your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits can be transferred to a dependent or spouse, but only very specific conditions, which many find somewhat onerous. In order to transfer your GI Bill benefits to your spouse, you need to have served for at least 6 years, and be signed on to serve at least 4 more at the time your spouse begins to use the entitlement. In other words, you must be serving the entire time that your spouse is using your GI Bill benefits. You can only transfer your GI Bill benefits to a dependent after you have served for 10 years or more, and you must continue to serve while your dependent uses those benefits.

 

So your benefits can be transferred to a spouse or dependent, but at great personal cost to you. Use only at great need.

 

Conclusion

So there you have it! Hopefully now you understand enough about the two different GI Bills that you know which one you qualify for (or which to choose if you qualify for both), and you’ll be able to make plans to best use the benefits that you’ve worked hard and put up with a lot of crap to earn! All of us here at Low VA Rates give our thanks for your service and wish you the best of luck as you work on improving your future.

The Best Cities For Veterans to Live

The Best Cities For Veterans to Live

Active service members nearing retirement or discharge often feel like they are about to start a whole new life, and in many respects they are. They have the opportunity to find a new career, find a new place to live, explore new hobbies, and spend a more time with their family. The feeling you get may be very similar to how you felt when you graduated high school – except this time you may have children and a spouse, more facial hair (for men), a lot more life experience under your belt, more distrust for politicians, and most importantly, you appreciate a good nap.

 

Best Cities for Veterans to LiveAs every service member discovers during their time in the military, not all cities are created equal (though all BX’s are). Many cities and areas are more friendly to veterans and their situations than others. The USAA (United Services Automobile Association) has put together a list of the best cities for veterans. The choices they made depended very heavily on job creation and unemployment rates, as well as cost of living. We’ll go over their top ten, and throw in extra information about the cities that can help you determine which one is the best fit for your situation. We’ll also wrap up with some honorable mentions found from livability.com.

 

#10 – Fort Lauderdale, Florida

 

Coming in at the #10 spot for the best cities for veterans to live in is Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Fort Lauderdale has not made the USAA list before, but has made it now due to the large number of employment opportunities available for veterans. In addition to the employment opportunities, Fort Lauderdale also has low home prices, a low cost-of-living, and strong economic growth. The USAA reports that the median price of a typical home in Fort Lauderdale is $137,700, the economy grew at 3.1% over the last year, and has an unemployment rate at 5.7%, which is lower than the national average. Something big must be happening in Florida, because this is just one of three Florida cities on the top 10 list.

 

#9 – Orlando, Florida

 

Orlando, Florida boasts similar advantages to Fort Lauderdale – solid economic growth, a fair amount of employment opportunities, and low home prices. While its unemployment rate is a bit higher than Fort Lauderdale (6.6%), and the economic growth over the past year a bit lower (2.5%), the median home price is significantly lower at $117,600. In addition to the very low cost of housing, veterans living in Orlando benefit from all of the luxuries a large city provides. Orlando is extremely close to numerous theme parks and major tourist attractions. Living in Orlando is living every day in a place that other people pay thousands of dollars to vacation to. Whatever phase of life you are in when you leave the military, Orlando has something for you. From one of the largest schools in the U.S. (University of Central Florida), to a massive leisure and hospitality industry, to a warm climate, to low housing costs, Orlando is a great place for veterans to live.

 

#8 – Salt Lake City, Utah

 

As a resident of Salt Lake City, it comes as no surprise to me that it is on the USAA’s top 10 list of best cities for veterans. Salt Lake City has an astoundingly low unemployment rate of 4.5% and great economic growth of 4% in the last year. While Salt Lake has a fairly high average household incomes, homes are also far more expensive on average. The median price for a typical home in Salt Lake is $222,300.

 

Here’s the resident’s insider perspective: Salt Lake City is a great place to live – and the suburbs of Salt Lake City are even better. As you probably know, Salt Lake City is the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). Regardless of your religious beliefs, the presence of the LDS church in Salt Lake is a major benefit: downtown Salt Lake is very safe (even at night), very clean, and has plenty of things to do. During the Holidays, Temple Square in the middle of downtown is meticulously and grandly decorated with tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of lights with free tours of historic buildings. Even residents who’ve lived in the area for 30+ years try to find a time every year to go down to walk around Temple Square to see the lights.

 

Salt Lake City sits at the base of part of the Rocky Mountain range, and as far as you can see both to the North and to the South are majestic views and gorgeous canyons. Whether you’re looking for a beautiful place to quietly retire, or looking for a place to start the next phase of your life with your family, Salt Lake City offers fantastic leisure opportunities and a patriotic environment very friendly to veterans.

 

#7 – Tampa, Florida

 

Completing the Florida trifecta is Tampa. Tampa’s major strength lies in its cost-of-living; Tampa boasts extremely low housing prices (a median of $106,600), and very high job growth, tying with Salt Lake City for the top spot at 4%. However, Tampa does have a higher unemployment rate than any other cities on the top 10 list (but still lower than the national average). Tampa’s unemployment rate is 6.9%. Tampa and the surrounding area has several universities and colleges that can provide opportunities for younger veterans, and is convenient to many relaxing vacation places for those looking to pamper themselves in retirement.

 

#6 – Norfolk, Virginia

 

Norfolk offers several unique benefits compared to the cities we’ve already discussed. First, it’s the only one so far that can really be considered on the east coast, so for those who have family in that area or have other reasons to want to head to the east coast after leaving the military, Norfolk could be a great candidate. Second, it’s got the highest concentration of federal jobs, military installations, and VA facilities. As far as the numbers go, Norfolk does well with a 5.7% unemployment rate, but has a higher median home price of $194,700. Norfolk is a beautiful city and not a far drive from gorgeous scenery.

 

#5 – Austin, Texas

 

In many things, Austin is better-than-average, and in most others, it’s at least average. Overall, Austin is a great place for veterans to live. Austin is even better for those younger veterans looking for jobs with technology companies, since it is home to quite a few of the major players in the tech industry. In Austin, the unemployment rate is only 5.3%, while the growth rate is at a fantastic 3.4%. The median home price is on par with the national average at $186,600, and household income is very high. While Austin has a warmer climate, it is nowhere near the oppressive desert heat often associated with Texas. With average highs in July and August around 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and average lows in December and January around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, Austin gets hot, but not deathly, in the summer, and pleasantly cool in the winter, not cold.

 

#4 – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

 

Like Austin, Oklahoma City is the state capital, and as such there are a lot of state government employment opportunities for those coming out of the military. Oklahoma City also has an extremely low cost-of-living, and claims the lowest median home price of the entire list. The median home price in Oklahoma City is just $105,800. The economy in Oklahoma City is doing great with the oil, gas, and mineral developments that have been taking place recently. For veterans looking to increase their education, the University of Oklahoma provides fantastic and varied educational opportunities.

 

Oklahoma City is a higher population area, but the state of Oklahoma has a great deal of mountainous areas and wilderness. Living in Oklahoma City, you’ll have all the benefits of being in a large city, but you won’t have to go far to see beautiful forests and varied wildlife. Without driving too far, you’ll be able to see the milky way clearly in the night sky and enjoy some time out-of-doors. Like many of the places on this list, Oklahoma City has a good offering in the way of employment and the economic situation, and also offers great recreational activities and ways to relax.

 

#3 – Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

Minneapolis, Minnesota has steady and consistent job growth, a low 5.3% unemployment rate, a good median house price ($167,000), and the highest average household income of any city on this list. Minneapolis holds its own on all of the basic indicators that the USAA looked for in creating this list, but it has several unique factors that bring it high up on the list. Minneapolis’ economy is not only very strong, it’s also unusually diverse, catering to a large variety of professionals. This diversity makes it great for veterans because chances are that no matter what your specialty in the military was, you’ll be able to find a job that utilizes your special talents. Minneapolis also has an extremely low crime rate – the lowest crime rate of all the cities on this list. For the younger veterans still looking for a place where they can find a job to support their families, and for older veterans looking for a place they can retire without too much worry, the safe streets and strong, diverse economy of Minneapolis, Minnesota have a lot to offer.

 

#2 – Dallas, Texas

 

As we get down to the top two cities in the U.S. for veterans, the things that  make these cities stand apart get more apparent. Dallas, Texas finds a fantastic balance between an affordable cost-of-living and a well-performing economy. The median home price in Dallas is a respectable $123,741; not the lowest, but still a very easy amount to work with compared to many other places in the United States. Living in Dallas, however, is not for someone looking for a rural place to settle down. Dallas is the seventh largest metro area in the U.S. and has everything you’d expect in a massive city. In Dallas there is a not only a large number of employment opportunities, but also a great variety of them, which makes Dallas a good bet for most veterans looking for work.

 

Dallas is one of many cities getting a large benefit from the oil and gas development in that area, and has had a healthy job growth of 2.9% over the last year as well as an unemployment rate of 6.2%. One thing Dallas does extremely well: stability. The recession and housing crisis have not hit Dallas nearly as hard as other places in the country, and the city has been consistently growing for a while. With several major hospitals, an international airport, and a great deal of leisure services and activities, Dallas can be a fun place to retire for those wanting the big city life, and a great place to find new work as you leave the military.

 

#1 – Houston, Texas

 

Houston and the area around it are the state’s own personal Florida in terms of both climate and recreation. Houston has a warm climate that doesn’t usually see snowfall but gets an above-average amount of rain. The average July high is in the low 90s and the average January low is in the mid 40s. However, you need to know that Houston is quite humid, which can make the low 90s seem a lot more uncomfortable than you would think. Therefore, Houston does not do too well on the “comfort index”, but can be fantastic for older veterans looking for a warm place to retire and enjoy. Houston is right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and is a great place to go for those who want to enjoy saltwater fishing, cruises, or caribbean vacations.

 

On the economic side of life, Houston is very strong. Houston’s economy is both diverse and strong, and has an unusual concentration of job opportunities that correspond with skills that those transitioning from the military have. Houston’s unemployment rate is a very respectable 6.1%, and the job growth is holding steady at 2.6%. Even though Houston’s economy is booming, the cost-of-living is staying relatively low, with the median housing price below the national average. Houston is even bigger than Dallas, however, and is the 4th largest metro area in the United States. There’s a great deal to do in Houston, and many places to work.

 

Conclusion
So there you have it! Those are the USAA’s top-rated cities for veterans. As promised, here are some other cities to look into that livability.com put on their top 10 list: Cheyenne, Wyoming, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Fayetteville, North Carolina. If those cities are closer to where you’re hoping to live after leaving the military, they should have a lot of potential for you.

Making the Most of your VA Benefits

VA Loan Benefits

 

 

Let us reintroduce you to something you may have realized. You may even have seen just how VA loan benefits are available to you. Regardless of where you are in life, you can use the VA loan program to your advantage, and there are special ways the program can be used that are optimized for veterans in your exact situation. Now is the time to realize that you can do more than you probably know, and save a great deal more money than you think. This guide is developed to help open your eyes and learn “How to make the most of your VA Loan Benefits”.

Learn how to save more money that you realized you were able to with a VA Loan. Find out how easy it is to get more out of your home, from the beginning or by refinancing with a VA Refinance. Do you know how many options there are for you and your home? For you and your savings? Let us get started with this guide to open the door, and your mind and utilize it so you are not feeling that it is more trouble than the minimal advantage is worth. Come with us to set the record straight: it’s worth it!

Click Here to read more!

The VA Scandal Spreads – Now Affecting Benefits Division

The wait-list scandal at the VA has been shown to be a nationwide phenomenon, and with the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, national interest on the scandal has continued to rise. Proof has been uncovered that shows that VA officials indeed falsified records to make it appear that they were hitting goals and meeting quotas. While the severity of the scandal varied from hospital to hospital, the degree to which it is occurring is disturbing, to say the least. While the VA was generally reporting that veterans were getting scheduled appointments within 30 days of arriving, in truth the average wait time for veterans seeking care is 115 days. As if this tragedy weren’t enough for the VA to deal with, it seems that similar efforts were made to meet similar goals on a different front – benefits payments.

claimscenter

Just over a year ago, the backlog for veterans’ benefits claims began to make headlines, and enormous political pressure and public visibility caused the VA to make very aggressive goals to eliminate the backlog by 2015. However, a growing amount of evidence and witnesses testify that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has deliberately manipulated data to make it appear as though they were meeting their performance targets. Allegations also include that the VBA “…fostered a corrosive culture in which accountability is scarce and managers punish workers who report wrongdoing.” (Washington Post)

The claims were substantiated by the office of the VA Assistant Inspector General – Linda Halliday. Halliday testifies that they were able to verify that claims processors in the Philadelphia office were manually changing dates for older benefits claims to make them appear more recent, thereby making it seem that the VA office was hitting its performance quotas. Eerily similar to the uncovering of the VA waiting list scandal, as the original allegations were investigated and found to be true, more allegations and complaints began cropping up around the country. While each case will need to be investigated independently to ascertain whether the issue was present in each office, the VA seems to be preparing for the worst, and expecting that the problem will be widespread.

Just recently, the VA made a statement in which they explained that the changing of dates for claims was a result of misinterpretation of a leadership memo sent out by the Director of the VBA, which gave processors the ability to mark claims that had previously been overlooked with the date that they were found, or “discovered”. Speaking editorially, it seems odd that the VA would mean anything other than what resulted from the guidance, since it clearly states that processors can change the date on an old claim. However, the VA undersecretary testified that the guidance was given in an effort to allow processors to approve old or buried claims without having to require the applicants to get new examinations by doctors to verify their current condition. Since medical examinations have to occur within a certain amount of time before the claims application can be approved, this guidance would seemingly speed up the process considerably.

It does clearly state in the memo that any time the “discover date” is used on the claim instead of the submission date, approval from a higher-up and a clear explanation must be provided to justify the decision. Unfortunately, as the VA inspector general’s office found in a review of 30 of these cases from last month, not a single one was in full compliance with the guidelines. It also seems to be the case that the order often came from managers to manually change dates “on any claims, regardless of the circumstances, if they were older than a certain date.” To add to the implication that management knew they were bending the rules, a VA leadership memo said, “There will be no negative consequences for you, the employees, as a result of following this guidance. The only possible negative consequences are those that exist if we fail to meet our goals for this project and for any actions that keep us from doing so.”

For some, this growing VA scandal is mismanagement and unethical dealings on a high level. For others, it represents the threat and danger associated with expansive government and bureaucracy to the health and safety of citizens.

The VA Fiduciary Program: What Every Veteran Should Know

Whether due to a disability or old age, there could come a time in a veteran’s life (or the life of a non-veteran beneficiary) when handling all of the benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs becomes a challenge.  That’s why the government provides the VA Fiduciary Program.

The program is there to protect veterans and beneficiaries who are unable to manage their VA benefits through the appointment and oversight of a fiduciary. A fiduciary is a trustee who will manage the benefits in the veteran’s behalf.

If a veteran has been determined unable to manage their VA benefits, the VA will conduct a field examination to appoint a fiduciary to assist them.  The VA field examination will be scheduled for the purpose of appointing a fiduciary to assist the veteran in managing their benefits.  During the field examination, the veteran should have certain information available for review by the examiner.  The veteran should provide photo identification, the source and amount of all monthly bills and recurring expenses, any income they receive, a list of all current medications, and the name, phone number, and address for their primary doctor and next of kin.  The veteran should also provide a list of all assets, to include bank accounts, owned property, stocks, bonds, life insurance, burial plans, etc.

After the examination has taken place, and the VA knows all that needs to be taken care of, the selection process for a fiduciary begins.  The veteran can choose or recommend someone to serve as their fiduciary.  During the selection process, the VA will first seek to qualify the individual the veteran chooses to serve.  The fiduciary selection is based on an assessment of the qualifications of the proposed fiduciary.  Some of the individuals that a veteran might consider when seeking a fiduciary could be a spouse or family member, a court-appointed fiduciary, another interested part, or a professional fiduciary.  An assessment of the qualifications of a proposed fiduciary includes, but is not limited to the willingness to serve and abide by all agreements, an interview with a VA representative, credit report review, an inquiry into the criminal background, and interviews with character witnesses.

The determination that the veteran is unable to manage their VA benefits does not affect their veterans non-VA finances, or their right to vote or contract.  They have the right to appeal the VA’s decision finding that they are unable to manage their VA benefits.  The veteran also has the right to appeal VA’s selection of the fiduciary.  If the veteran disagrees with the VA on either of these matters, they may appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals by telling the VA they disagree with the decision that was made and want the Board to review it, or the veteran can give the VA evidence that they do not already have that may lead them to change their decision.

The veteran may also request to have their ability to manage their VA benefits be reevaluated, or to have a new fiduciary appointed, at any time.  If the veteran wishes a reevaluation, they must submit a request in writing with any supporting medical evidence to the Regional Office of jurisdiction.

To begin an appeal of the VA’s decision, the veteran must write a letter to the VA telling them that he or she disagrees with the decision made, and wishes to appeal.  This letter is called the “Notice of Disagreement.” The veteran may also submit any additional evidence in support of their appeal.

When the letter is received, the veterans case will be reviewed, and any additional evidence provided will be considered.  If the VA changes their decision, they will notify the veteran in writing.  If the VA makes no changes in their decision, they will send the veteran a Statement of the Case, which describes the facts, laws, regulations, and reasons the VA used to make their decision.  The VA will also send the veteran a VA Form 9, “Appeal to Board of Veterans’ Appeals,” which must be completed and returned to the VA by the veteran if they still choose to continue their appeal.  Once the Statement is sent to the veteran, they have one year to submit the Form and continue the appeal. After one year, the VA’s decision is final.  If the veteran continues the appeal, it will be brought before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, where you will have the right to a hearing.  After that, whatever decision the Board makes will be final.

 

VA Needs to Watch Quality as Much as Quantity

According to a veterans group representing the latest generation of war fighters, as the Obama administration races to address a long-standing case of backlogged claims, they should put focus on quality as much as quantity in reviewing veterans’ disability claims.  The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America released a report on Monday containing their examinations of the massive claims inventory and how the government should address it.   In the report, the group offered a list of recommendations to improve the claims process, both in quantity and quality.  Some of the ideas ranged from standardizing forms to considering the use of clinicians outside the Department of Veterans Affairs to assess individuals who file for benefits.

According to VA figures, back in March of 2013, the number of cases pending for more than 125 days reached an all-time high of 600,000.  During a period of severe criticism that followed the release of those numbers, the VA launched an array of initiatives.  This number also sparked the Obama administration to set a goal of eliminating the backlog by 2015, implementing a VA overtime “surge” in May to deal with the issue, making overtime mandatory for claims processors.  The VA also installed an automated processing system and tackled the oldest cases first.

Within eight months, the VA decreased the backlog by more than a third, down to 400,000 cases.  The number of cases has continued to drop thanks to the hard work of claims processors, decreasing by nearly 37 percent since last March.  But as the VA pushes to get rid of the backlog, another problem arises as appeals are stacking up.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said, in their recent report, “Efforts to decrease the backlog have had an unintended effect on the number of claims pending appeal.  The need for more staff to review backlogged claims was satisfied in part by redistributing staff normally designated to work on appeals.”  The group continued to say that the VA could reduce its appeals numbers through improved accuracy and by reviewing the effectiveness of its processes.

Former Army captain and Iraq War veteran Tom Tarantino, who Is currently an Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America chief policy officer, stated, “We’re concerned that these initiatives (to end the backlog) aren’t sufficiently tracked in terms of cost and benefit.  What that leads to is a lack of clarity as to whether they (the VA) can get rid of the backlog.”

In December, Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits administration, testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on the improvements the VA has made.  She stated that the agency had improved its claims accuracy from 83 percent to 90 percent since the summer of 2011.

The veterans group continued in their report to name other ways the VA could do things better.   The group said that the VA should also try to create a joint program with the Defense Department.  This would allow the two agencies to expedite record-sharing, in addition to the VA being able to anticipate and plan for future needs of the veterans coming in. The joint program could also provide feedback that is much sought after by the VA on how to improve the VA’s automated systems.

The report from the group states, “The backlog may end in FY 2015, but the disability-compensation process will continue.  If the VA does not learn from its mistakes, it is bound to repeat them.”

In a statement also released on Monday, the VA said that it largely concurs with the analysis. The agency said, “Many of the recommendations of this report are consistent with our goals … and reflect action already taken or underway.  We will continue to work with our partners and stakeholders to execute our plan to end the backlog.”  The VA called the report a part of its continued collaboration with veterans groups and said it continues working aggressively to try to end the backlog in 2015.

“We have made strong progress, and we know there is more work to do,” said Drew Brookie, VA press secretary.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama promised that his attention would remain on the VA’s caseload. “We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care – including the mental health care – that they need,” he said.

 

Veterans Miss Out on Unknown Benefits

It used to be that when Johnny came marching home, as the song goes, we’d give him a hearty welcome. The men would cheer, the boys would shout and the ladies, they would all turn out.

Not so much anymore.

For the most part, America’s newest generation of military veterans returns to their hometowns from deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq with little fanfare, except among their family and friends. Local service agencies say the federal Department of Veterans Affairs does not notify them when local soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines come home, making it tough to let them know about the benefits available in the lower Hudson Valley.

“It’s been a problem for decades,” said Vietnam veteran Jerry Donnellan, director of the Rockland County Veterans Service Agency. “I’ll bet you lunch that there’s a young veteran just out of the service within two miles of where I’m sitting who could use our help. But he doesn’t know we exist and we don’t know where he is.”

Ryan Barry got out of the Navy in April 2009, after being deployed in the Gulf of Oman aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Living in New Rochelle and going to school, it wasn’t until a year later that he found out about the Westchester Veterans Service Agency, through a classmate who was also a veteran.

The military “tells you about benefits when you’re getting out, but the class is really short and you’re so excited about going home that you don’t pay much attention,” he said. Eventually, Barry got in touch with the Westchester veterans office in White Plains, which helped him obtain VA disability payments for knee and back problems. He’s also attended group counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder and is involved with the Veterans Writing Workshop sponsored by Fordham University. He now lives in Connecticut in hopes to continue school at UConn Stamford in January.

“It really would have been nice to know that all these services were available when I first got home,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer agrees. In March, after learning that tens of thousands of veterans are not taking advantage of New York’s property tax exemption for former military members, Schumer wrote to VA Secretary Eric K Shinseki, asking that information on the benefit be included in VA home loan information packets.

Shinseki replied that the VA is reviewing the best ways to help.

“Clearly, the VA is not moving fast enough,” Schumer said. “On Veterans Day, we must give thanks to service members, young and old, past and present, for their bravery and sacrifice in defense of our great nation. But, this sign of gratitude is useless if veterans don’t know what’s available to them.”

While the VA continues to review its procedures, Putnam Veterans Service Agency Director Karl Rohde is hoping he may have found a crack in the information wall. In a conversation with his counterpart in Suffolk County over the summer, Rohde learned that a little-known VA policy provides for the release of names and addresses of veterans for the purpose of advising them of local benefits and programs. He applied immediately.

“I just got a call from them on Tuesday asking what format I want the information sent in,” the Vietnam veteran said.  “We have people out there with injuries, PTSD and even some who are suicidal. We have to be able to get in touch with them, so we can try to help them.”

There are many different benefits available that usually go unknown, such as disabled veterans are entitled to free admission in all state parks, some veterans who own property can be considered for tax abatements, and veterans who rent property can receive up to a $70 discount on the excise taxes they pay for their license plates.

There are many benefits for those who have served our country.  There are the most well-known ones, such as VA Loans and Disability, as well as less known benefits as stated above.  Most states, and even counties in the states have various benefits that are available.  Take some time to go and research what is offered where you live, and what you qualify for because you may be missing out on thousands of dollars in benefits that you are entitled to!

 

VA Benefits History May Forecast Obamacare, Part 2

On April 26, 2012, sixty-seven senators sent a bipartisan plea to President Barack Obama which urged him to end the veteran’s benefits backlog through his “direct and public involvement” in fixing such an incredibly high backlog in disability claims:

After a decade of war, and despite the VA’s efforts to modernize, more than 600,000 veterans are still stuck in the VA’s disability claims backlog. While the average wait time for first time disability claims currently ranges between  316 and 327 days, veterans in certain parts of the country are waiting even longer – 681 days in Reno, 642 in New York, 625 in Pittsburgh, 619 in Los Angeles, 612 in Indianapolis, 586 in Houston, and 510 in Philadelphia. In the worst cases, veterans have waited and continue to wait 800 days, 900 days, and even more than 1000 days for a disability claims decision from the VA.

In the last four years, the number of claims pending for over a year has grown by over 2000%, despite a 40% increase in the VA’s budget. As a reminder, during this same time period, Congress has given VA everything it has asked for in terms of more funding and more employees; however, this has not eliminated the backlog of claims. Solving this problem is critical for veterans of all generations.

In many ways, the President is extremely good at making promises, yet actions usually speak louder than words. As the Washington Times revealed after this Veteran’s Day, the number of pending benefits claims is around 700,000 with an average wait time of 300 days. According to VA public reports, the average wait time for the veteran, or spouse, or any dependent children to receive benefits is 273 days. Conversely, the examination of internal VA data shows veterans who file their first claim have to wait about two more months to between 316 and 327 days, and sadly, for those veterans living in larger metropolitan areas, the wait is nearly two times longer.

This is a horrific tragedy, yet far too few Americans are even aware of this scandal. Obama, the candidate, found it easy to identify the problem, and easy to promise that he would fix the “broken VA bureaucracy.” However, the truth is quite the opposite. Even in last Monday’s Veterans Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama was again delivering a “have-to-do” mantra:

“We make sure we have the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in the world,” he declared while standing in the “sacred space” of Arlington’s graves.

”We have to devote just as much energy and passion to making sure we have the best-cared for, best-treated, best-respected veterans in the world…”

Such words do make sense to most Americans, yet such words ring hollow in light of the VA ineptitude. The simple truth is that the energy and passion required to solve the VA backlog may involve more than obvious observations in flowery speeches. The Washington Times article provided a startling revelation that:

“In 1997, the VA had about 5,000 field employees, each of whom was able to process about 135 claims per year, according to department budget submissions and Government Accountability Office reports. In 2012, the VA has about three times as many field employees, each accomplishing only about half the work and processing an estimated 73 claims per year.”

In reality, the patriots and families who often depend on such benefits as payments for basic needs are more than mere statistics. These Americans face very real economic problems each day they do not receive their benefits. Reports indicate that some become homeless without their benefits and a substantial support system; some die before they get their benefits. Some have been known to commit suicide out of sheer hopelessness. Mere words do not solve the very real problems of patriots who volunteered to serve this nation in a time of global turmoil. Those who deserve the nation’s gratitude often become trapped in a system of bureaucratic ineptitude.

Ironically, such ineptitude revealed in a local neighborhood medical clinic would probably warrant a government investigation and likely closure of the facility. Unfortunately, the backlog of benefits for the nation’s veterans is more frightening than one may initially realize. Many Americans may not realize that the VA represents the largest integrated healthcare system in the nation. In one way, it can be viewed as a model of a much larger is indeed a tragedy.

The way the Obama Administration has handled the mess involving the largest integrated healthcare system in the nation is indeed a tragedy. Yet, with the advent of Obamacare, citizens within the U.S., in a very short time, may have to deal with many of the same issues that the veterans are being forced to deal with right now.

The fundamental premise of Obamacare is that the federal government is more capable than the private sector in handling the health insurance claims and real medical needs of the nation. Another simplistic recognition of the problem of health insurance and flowery “have-to” speeches are no guarantee that Obama’s Administration is capable of “fixing” the myriad of problems in the way healthcare is administered in the U.S. If the current history of the administration’s efforts at “fixing” the VA backlog is any indication of competency, people in America are in for a long and literally painful ordeal. The problems with the Obamacare website will seem quite rudimentary based upon such an abysmal track record.

 

Veteran Education Benefits Increase, VA Bonuses Decrease

A bill that would expand veterans’ educational benefits and end bonuses for all of the senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs was unanimously passed in the House this last week. The bonuses which are due to be cut would be cut for five years.

Approved on Monday, February 3, the measure was introduced over a year ago by Rep. Jeff Miller, from Florida, and Rep. Mike Michaud, from Maine.  The two representatives head the House Veterans Affairs Committee when they created the bill. It would require all schools eligible for GI Bill benefits, regardless of where those individuals have actually established residence, to give veterans in-state tuition rates, saving the veteran thousands of dollars in tuition.  If, for any reason, the public university would not charge veterans in-state tuition rates, they would have to face a financial penalty.

Originally, Congress intended for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan era to receive free schooling from a public school of their choice.  For the most part, it was successful.  But on occasion, as soon as the veteran returns to normal life, they move into a new state and find that the federal government’s reimbursement to colleges won’t fully cover the higher tuition rates that generally apply to students who come from out of state.

According to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the recently passed legislation has a projected savings of $18 million over the period when bonuses will be eliminated for VA executives.  The elimination of those bonuses is currently set to be during fiscal years 2014 through 2018.

On top of making all GI Bill benefits in-state tuition and taking away bonuses for leaders in the VA, the bill includes other provisions that would extend the VA’s work-study program through 2018 and increase the time frame for veterans to use their vocational rehabilitation benefits from 12 years to 17 years, among other measures.

The representative who led the House floor debate on the legislation, Rep. Mark Takano from California, said last Wednesday that the measure gives lawmakers a chance to help veterans transition out of their military lives.  In a statement Wednesday, he said, “Too often, our veterans have difficulty reintegrating back in civilian life, and Congress should be doing all that it can to make things easier for our heroes.”

Despite a longstanding backlog of disability claims, the VA has been known to and has taken fire for paying large bonuses to its senior officials. On top of that, a federal watchdog report said that the department awarded bonuses to most of its doctors and dentists despite lacking reasonable assurances that the extra pay was linked to performance.  In fact, one of the more well known instances of the VA awarding those who did not do their job was revealed in a CBS report last year.  In the report, it was revealed that the VA awarded $63,000 in performance pay to one of its regional directors shortly after a probe had determined that his medical centers had failed to prevent an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease.

While many agree that the right direction was to cut the bonuses for the VA’s senior staff, as was evidenced by a unanimous vote, the Senior Executives Association has warned of the consequences that could follow with the passing of this bill.  They warned that cutting the bonuses for VA’s top leaders could cause those employees to seek work in the private sector or with other agencies, in which they could potentially earn a higher salary and more money.  The Senior Executives Association’s president, Carol Bonosaro, said in a letter to Miller and Michaud last year that the federal government’s senior executives are by and large hard-working and effective managers who deserve their bonuses.

“To the extent that there are actual instances of senior executives engaging in misconduct or sub-par performance and still receiving awards, it is the rare exception rather than the norm,” Bonosaro said.  She also added that agencies can take action against those who abuse their positions or fail to meet certain expectations.

On Wednesday, the association released a statement saying the hold on bonuses “sends a negative message to VA senior executives that their work is not valued and that the pay-for-performance system is broken; further, it ties the hands of VA leadership, which would be severely limited in its ability to recognize stellar performance.

 

Veterans in the Backlog

Local veterans filing disability claims with the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) benefits office in Buffalo wait on average 311 days to learn whether they qualify for disability payments. Veterans in Cleveland wait 463 days.  In Indianapolis, it’s 488 days. And in New York City, it’s 501 days. This seems like a very long wait for disability, yet when veterans finally learn how much disability they qualify for, and they disagree with the percentage of the service-related disability, a bureaucratic labyrinth awaits.

President Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki say the backlog of pending claims, nearly half a million, is steadily decreasing because the BA is working more efficiently.  The goal is to eliminate the backlog by 2015, and give veterans answers on their claims within 125 days.  They plan to do this by effectively sorting through the claims that have been filed, and moving new claims into their digital system that has been reported to be much faster and easier to use.

But for Kenneth W. Waite, a former Marine from Jamestown who served three tours of duty in the Vietnam War, he feels he is fighting a losing battle to get 100 percent disability for his post-traumatic stress disorder that he says makes him unemployable.

“The VA says they’re only 300 and some days behind. But they are three years behind in my case,” Waite said of his disputed claim.

As veterans are waiting for their disability to go through, and waiting again as it doesn’t pass the first time, life goes on.  Life can be financially crippled for so many veterans who need help, but can’t get it.  Buffalo attorney Jeffrey M. Freedman, who specializes in disputed compensation cases, says his office receives more than 50 calls a week from area veterans seeking help with their claims.

“Helping these clients is like wrestling with an elephant or rolling a large boulder up a hill,” Freedman said. “The soldier who is shot on the battlefield can fight three to five years to get a disability check.”

And that is why there is so much concern. No one wants to end up in a drawn-out fight that takes a toll not only financially, but causes “stress that contributes to further health problems,” Freedman said.

In 2012, the VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals ruled that nearly 3 in 4 appealed claims brought before it contained inaccurate or insufficient information.  Such cases are sent back to the VA office where it originated to fix the problems. Once a case is referred back to the regional office, they go in a pile with all the other claims. At present, the appeals board is handling 47,000 disputed cases, including Waite’s.

Waite, 68, says he may end up dying before he sees a penny from the government for his disabilities.  He filed his claim in January of 2010, after the VA diagnosed him with PTSD connected with his wartime service.  He has had emotional problems for his entire adult life, he says, but has roughed it out on his own. His claim was completed in June of that year with a determination that he was 30 percent disabled.  Looking back over his life, he realized that his condition had created hardships that had ultimately turned him into almost a hermit.

Waite tells how he’s had nine or ten different jobs, has trouble getting along with people, gets upset real easy, and stays up late at night, for no reason, just lying in his bed.  That is quite the opposite of the person he used to be in High School, where he played numerous sports and the trumpet and tuba in the band.  But in February, 1963, his world changed.  He enlisted in Marine Corps and was among the first major waves of troops to enter Vietnam.

By his third tour of duty there, he says, the danger had increased dramatically.  He had begun that final tour weighing 160 pounds.  By the end of it, he weighed 130. He never regained the weight and now sees that as a symbol of his troubled life.

Waite was diagnosed with PTSD more than three years ago, and has since joined a veteran’s support group who encouraged him to challenge the 30 percent disability rating.  The increased monthly compensation would be substantial, he said.  He currently gets by on $1,200 in Social Security each month.

Waite says he hopes the VA will act on his appeal before he dies.

 

State of Colorado- Veteran Benefits

Employment Benefits

 

Does the State of Colorado offer Employment Benefits to Veterans?

The State of Colorado offers Civil Service Rights to Veterans interested in State

employment by adding 5 points to a Veteran’s or 10 points to a disabled Veteran’s final

passing score. This preference is granted in city and county governments that have a

“Merit System” in place.

In order to receive their 10 point employment preference, disabled Veterans must

provide a public employment preference letter which can be obtained from the Colorado

Division of Veteran Affairs and can be ordered by calling 303-284-6077.

Can my Spouse use my Preference if I am unable to work?

Yes. If a veteran is unable to work due to a service-connected disability, their spouse

may utilize their ten-point preference. Certain deceased veteran’s unmarried widow/

widower or the mother of a veteran who was killed or permanently and totally disabled

in the service are also eligible to use their veteran’s preference.

Does the State of Colorado assist Veterans in finding employment?

Yes. The State of Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment has 79 One Stop

Workforce Centers which are staffed with Disabled Veteran Outreach Person (DVOP)

and Local Veteran Employment Representatives (LVER) throughout the State to assist

Veteran’s in their employment search.

In addition, a VA Job Club is also held at the Denver VA Medical Center every 3rd

Thursday of the month from 9:00 am to 11:00 am in Building C, Room 111. For more

information or to attend the club, please contact:

Denver VA Medical Center

VA Job Club

1055 Clairmont Street

Denver, CO

(303) 399-8020

 

Education Benefits

 

Does the State of Colorado offer Education Benefits to Veterans?

The State of Colorado does not offer any Education Benefits to Veterans of the United

Stated Armed Forces or the United States Armed Forces Reserves. Reduced or free

tuition at certain State Institutions of post-secondary education is only available to

members of the Colorado National Guard and is granted at one year of Education

Benefits for every 2 years of service. There are no Education Benefits available to

members of the Colorado National Guard Reserves.

Does the State of Colorado offer Education Benefits to Dependents of Veterans?

The State of Colorado does not offer any Education Benefits to dependents of the

United Stated Armed Forces, the United States Armed Forces Reserves or the Colorado

National Guard Reserves. Children of Veterans of the Colorado National Guard who do

not qualify for Federal Education benefits, may be eligible to free tuition at certain State

Institutions of post-secondary education if the Veteran was killed or permanently

disabled, taken as prisoner of war, or missing in action while serving on State active

duty.

Does the State of Colorado offer Honorary High School Diplomas to Veterans?

Yes. The State of Colorado is authorized through its Operation Recognition program to

award high school diplomas to qualified Veterans. A qualified Veteran must have served

in the Korean, Vietnam or WWII war and received an honorable discharge, left school

before graduating to serve in the United States Armed Forces, is at least 60 years old,

and resided within the school district upon leaving to serve in the armed forces and

resides in the school district at time of application. A family member of the Veteran may

request the diploma posthumously.

To apply for a diploma, complete the Operation Recognition Application and return with

a copy of Veteran’s Honorably Discharged letter.

 

Other State of Colorado Veteran Benefits

 

Long-Term Care

The State of Colorado has the five long-term care facilities located throughout the State.

These facilities are located in Aurora, Florence, Monte Vista, Rifle and Walsenburg. All

locations provide long-term care, short-term rehabilitation, memory care services, shortterm

“respite” care, and end-of-life/hospice services. Domiciliary cottages are available

at the Colorado State Veterans Center at Homelake (Monte Vista) location.

Honorably discharged Veterans and spouses or widows are eligible to stay at

Colorado’s State Nursing Homes. “Gold-Star Parents” (non-veterans whose child died

while serving in the Armed Forces) are also eligible for long-term care at Colorado’s

Veterans Nursing Homes.

Cemetery Services

The State of Colorado opened the Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado

on September 5, 2002. It was created as a dignified resting place for Colorado with a

creek running through the property and memorial walks, benches and landscaped areas

throughout. Eligibility for burial is the same as national cemeteries for the Department

of Veterans Affairs, but includes a residency requirement. There is NO CHARGE for

internment in the Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado. Services include

a gravesite or niche, opening and closing of gravesite or niche, a granite marker with

approved inscriptions, a concrete vault or grave liner, use of Committal Shelter or Visitor

Center, and perpetual care of gravesite or niche.

Veterans License Plates

Disabled Veteran License Plates are available to honorably discharged Veterans with a

service-connected, permanent disability rating of 50% or greater. A completed Disabled

Veteran License Plate Application, along with the Veteran’s DD-214, disability rating,

current registration or title receipt, and proof of emissions, safety and insurance can be

submitted in person at the local Department of Motor Vehicles, or via mail to:

Colorado Department of Revenue Division

Motor Vehicle Registration

Denver, CO 80214

Branch and Award Specific Plates are also available for eligible Veterans at the

Department of Motor Vehicles.

State Parks

Veterans with a Disabled Veterans License Plate or a letter documenting their servicerelated

disability of 50% or greater are given free admission to any state park or

recreation area and granted discounts at campgrounds.

Real Estate Tax Exemption

The State of Colorado offers a property tax exemption of 50% of the first $200,000

value of a disabled Veteran’s primary residence. To qualify, a Veteran must be rated at

100% permanently and totally disabled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and

must have lived at the primary residence as of January 1st. To apply, contact the

Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs at 303-284-6077 or fax a Tax Exemption

Application to the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs at 303-284-3163.

Hunting and Fishing Licenses

Resident Veterans with a service-connected disability of 60% or more are granted

lifetime small-game hunting and fishing licenses at no charge. Members of the Armed

Forces who are resident patients at a military hospital or convalescent, or a resident

patient at a Veterans Hospital located in the State of Colorado are granted fishing

licenses at no charge. To apply, submit a completed Parks and Wildlife Application to

the Division of Parks and Wildlife, along with a copy of disability letter.

A New Contract to Spread Awareness of Benefits Available To Vets

The Integrated agency Reingold was able to obtain a $13.8 million contract this week from the Department of Veterans Affairs in an effort to raise awareness of the benefits veterans are eligible for after their service. This is all part of a more comprehensive effort from the Department of Veterans Affairs to reach out to the veterans whom some would say they have failed to connect with.

For a very long time now, the Department of Veterans Affairs has noted that many veterans in this country do not take advantage of the different services they have access to. There is a wide variety of reasons why many former servicemen and servicewomen have been reluctant to ask for the help they deserve. For some, it is a lack of awareness,  an unfamiliarity with the systems that house their benefits, the excessive and complicated paperwork involved, or doubting the quality of the care they will receive.

Kevin Miller, a partner and chief operating officer at Reingold said on August 8th,“Only a certain portion of veterans, 40% to 50%, are actually using the benefits they qualify for. This includes not only those just getting out, but those who have been out for years,”

As part of its contract with the VA, the firm is beginning to construct a web portal it hopes will be up and running by February 2014. “Talks are ongoing about whether the educational resource will have a unique web presence or be a subsite on a Veterans Affairs web property,” Miller said.

“There is also a potential social media outreach component to the contract that is being hammered out. One idea being discussed is developing content that partners would be able to disseminate through social media channels to draw attention to VA resources, said Miller. Reingold’s work also includes a strong paid-media component that will target both regional and national audiences.”

Mr Miller is in charge of the entire Reingold team. Together they plan and implement marketing and communications campaigns. His federal government campaigns include this outreach and communications contract on behalf of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’, the Homeless Veterans Outreach Initiative where he took charge of building the campaign’s massive collection of more than 2,700 national and grassroots partner organizations. He has also achieved an estimated 713 million audience impressions through earned media, and more than doubled the number of calls to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans.

A VA spokesperson said via email that “this contract is part of a comprehensive and synchronized VA benefits outreach campaign to expand access to earned care and benefits for eligible veterans, their survivors, and family members.”

The VA is investing this money to provide veterans timely access and use of benefits and services to achieve higher rates of participation in benefits programs.  They state on their website that self-service technology-enabled interactions provide access to information and the ability to execute transactions at the place and time convenient to the client. Some of the services available are obtaining official military documents, generating a Certificate of Eligibility for a VA home loan, or generating a letter verifying Veterans Preference for Federal hiring. The hope is that Reingold will be able to provide these things under the direction of Kevin Miller.

With these types of capabilities, VA will have an opportunity to grant access to VA information and services by enhancing the quality, accuracy, efficiency, and timeliness of information/data exchanges conducted over the Web.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has also posted award documents showing it intends to award Reingold a $2.8 million contract to be able to continue suicide-prevention outreach. The firm has been working with the federal agency on the issue since 2010. Mr Miller has headed up many of the other contracts with the federal government which, before this newest contract, totaled more than 9 million dollars.

The scope of work includes implementing an ongoing outreach plan and designing key metrics to ensure communications materials are achieving intended results. There is also a heavy material development comment, according to the award notice.

The contact also includes funding for regional TV, radio, and out-of-home advertising, as well as digital advertising on social media. Research, planning, and media monitoring services are also a part of the scope of work.

Update on TRICARE for Veterans

Pressure to reduce military spending continues to trickle through military benefits programs such as TRICARE. As a recent example, retirees eligible for TRICARE for Life (TFL) will face higher outpatient costs at VA hospitals and clinics starting Oct. 1 for healthcare not related to time in service.

A recent audit of TFL payouts found that the government was essentially covering all health costs, even when that care was unrelated to service time causes—and outside the language of TLC policy coverage. Michael O’Bar, deputy chief of TRICARE policy and operations recently announced that TRICARE policy regarding TFL retirees and VA health care will “get back into sync” with statutory requirements

The law that established TRICARE for Life as a prized supplement to Medicare for retirees 65 and older directs TRICARE to cover the cost of TFL claims only after Medicare has paid its share, followed by any other health insurance that retirees might have to serve as second payer.

Some TRICARE Details

  • TRICARE Prime. The current family enrollment fee of $539 for working-age retirees (under age 65) would increase next year to equal 2.95 percent of the individual’s gross retired pay.  But for 2014 the fee would be subject to an annual minimum, or floor, of $548 and a ceiling of $750 ($900 for flag officers).  The fee would be raised to 3.3 percent of gross retired pay in 2015 with a floor of $558 and ceiling of $900 ($1200 for flag); 3.65 percent in 2016 with floor of $569 and ceiling of $1050 ($1500 for flag); and so on until reaching 4 percent of gross retired pay in 2018 with a floor of $594 and ceiling of $1226 ($1840 for flag). Fees for single coverage would be half these amounts.
  • TRICARE Standard/Extra. For the first time, users of these options would face an annual enrollment fee, starting at $70 for single coverage or $140 for family, and rising each year until reaching $125 (individual) and $250 (family) in 2018.  Also, the current annual deductible of $150 (individual) and $300 (family) would gradually increase, starting in 2014 and until it reached $290 (individual) and $580 (family) in 2018.
  • TRICARE for Life. Beneficiaries 65 and older can use TRICARE for Life as a golden supplement to Medicare. Officials said a comparable individual policy in 2009 would cost $2100 in the private sector.  So, they reason, military elderly should at least pay a small enrollment fee. But these changes would be grandfathered to impact only retirees who become TFL beneficiaries after enactment.
    The fee would equal one half of one percentage point of gross retired pay in 2014; one percent in 2015; 1.5 percent in 2016, and two percent in 2017 and in 2018.  But the fees would have ceilings: no more $150 a year in 2014; no more than $300 in 2015, $450 in 2016, $600 in 2017 and no more than $618 in 2018.  Flag officers would face higher ceilings though not substantial. After 2017, these fees would be adjusted by the percentage of retiree COLAs.
  • Pharmacy Fees. The administration wants to follow last year’s increases in pharmacy co-pays with additional increases phased in to encourage greater use of mail order and generic drugs.
  • Catastrophic Cap. The current cap on total out-of-pocket costs TRICARE costs of $3000 a year would be raised for retirees in two ways: by excluding any TRICARE enrollment fees from counting toward the cap; and by raising the cap annually by the percentage of retiree COLA.

Have you checked out the VA eBenefits website? There is some really good information there on TRICARE and other medical benefits for veterans.

Also in this year’s plan survivors of members who die on active duty and persons medically retired from service would be exempt from any fee increases. The department no longer is asking that TRICARE fees be adjusted annually based on medical inflation.

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The Gavel is down: The Supreme Court Declares DOMA as Unconstitutional

As of 06/26/13, The Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. While this doesn’t require states to recognize gay marriages, it does provide gay veterans access to all of the benefits previously denied to them by the department of defense and the VA. Luckily for gay couples, the department of defense goes by the laws of the state in which a couple was married when they are evaluating what benefits a couple is eligible for, which means that any married gay couple (in order to be married they had to be married in a state that recognizes gay marriages).

It is expected that the Department of Veterans Affairs will be changing their policy of marriage being between two people of opposite genders to be in accordance with the Supreme Court decision. The Obama administration had already said that it would no longer defend the law on veterans benefits, but republicans were still fighting to keep the law the same. The vote in the supreme court was characteristically close, however, at a 5-4 final vote, which seems to be relatively common as of late.

 

The Department of Defense has full intentions to change any of their policies which conflict with the Supreme Court decision immediately, opening the doors to thousands of gay veterans to receive the benefits that their heterosexual counterparts have been enjoying for years. There are also some policies concerning overseas tours that will need adjustment and will be evaluated and updated as soon as possible.

 

Many notable Republicans were quiet on the subject, often directing the topic of conversation to something else, while noting that there’s no point in continuing to pursue the protection of the Defense of Marriage Act. There are, however, many concerns with the additional expenses that the Department of Defense is going to incur in response to opening the gates at this time.

 

The Pentagon is already facing strong pressure to keep the budget low, and with “personnel costs” reportedly growing faster than their budget, the addition of as many as 17,000 servicemembers and their dependents who will be utilizing benefits will put a severe strain on the already stretched budget. But many are saying that the financial cost of the policy change is insignificant compared to what the country is losing by instituting the policy.

 

While same-sex marriage is a very hot topic, few people bother to truly understand why those who disagree with them feel the way they do. The one side of the debate is relatively straightforward: personal choice, individual liberty, and freedom to love whomever one chooses and receive the same benefits that others who are in love with the persons of their choice are receiving.

 

The other side of the debate isn’t quite as simple, but is, to those who stand on this side, just as potent and inspiring as its opposite. While it may seem silly to grant so much weight to a single word: “marriage”, when viewed in the lens of belief, it begins to make more sense. Certainly an atheist could understand why a Christian would be bothered by a new smartphone coming out that was called, “The Jesus”, as Jesus has very deep significance and meaning to a Christian. The name Jesus is sacred and special, and should be treated with respect. To many religious individuals, the word “marriage” is sacred in a similar (though lesser) way, and means a man and a woman committing to love and care for one another for the rest of their lives.

 

While the author will remain neutral as to which side of the debate he lies on, as a father he can empathize with the desire to do everything in his power to make sure his children are brought up in a way that will help his children make the best and happiest choices they could make. It is understandable why many Christians feel that widespread acceptance of homosexuality will have a negative influence on their children.

 

But regardless of which side of the debate one stands on, the decision by the Supreme Court will enable gay veterans to receive all of the benefits of their heterosexual counterparts. Also in accordance with the decision, three more states will begin recognizing same-sex marriages on August 1st. It is expected that many more states will follow suit.

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

It’s an old saying with new meaning to veterans all over the nation. Justice delayed is justice denied. “News” of the backlog at the VA is not news at all to any veterans who are still waiting for their claim to be processed, but the saga continues in a dramatic way.

 

Secretary Shinseki has been working with the VA to create a plan that is to eliminate the backlog by 2015. Is that a reasonable goal? Is it an acceptable goal? Are they going to hit it? What is creating the backlog in the first place? First, let’s analyze the numbers.

 

The department of Veterans Affairs currently has 880,264 cases pending across the nation. Veterans wait an average time of 318 days before getting the first response from the VA that their claim has been processed. Of the 880,264 cases, 600,000 are considered backlogged. To be considered backlogged, a case has to have been pending for 125 days. The average amount of time that a veteran waits for a first response has nearly doubled in the last four years. So, is eliminating the backlog by 2015 a reasonable goal?

 

It probably is. Considering the amount of change that needs to take place in the infrastructure of the VA to better streamline the claims process, it is reasonable to expect that it will take at least a year to properly implement the changes, then even longer for them to take sizable bites out of the remaining load of claims.  While many veterans are frustrated and even offended by their interactions with the VA and VA officials, it is widely recognized that those who work with the VA are on board with getting the claims processed as quickly as possible, as many of them are veterans themselves. But is the goal of being rid of the backlog by 2015 acceptable?

 

It’s going to have to be. While the old saying rings true, there isn’t a whole lot to be done about it right now. There’s another old saying to not cry over spilled milk. The backlog should never have happened in the first place, and if the VA had been acting in ways to speed up their process before this, we wouldn’t be here. If the VA had implemented digital application and processing systems long before now, they wouldn’t have to be implemented in the middle of this crisis. If the VA had prepared for the return of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan by hiring more claims processors or making other changes to prepare for the high volume, they wouldn’t be scrambling to do so now. Hindsight may be 20/20, but these are things the VA should have foreseen. But, lest we cast all of the blame on the shoulders of the VA, the VA may not have been granted the necessary funding to make those changes before now. So, while justice delayed is justice denied, let’s not cry over spilled milk and let us focus on putting our noses to the grindstone.

 

But is the VA going to hit Secretary Shinseki’s goal? Maybe. It’s an ambitious goal, and the VA has been planning some radical changes to see that it gets hit. But whether because it’s a political hot-topic or because Washington is genuinely concerned about her veterans, more and more government agencies and officials are jumping on the bandwagon to help ensure that the VA hits their optimistic goal. The Government Accountability Office, which exists solely for the purpose of making sure the government is held accountable for their actions (yes, we all know they’re doing a bang-up job), has audited the VA and evaluated their plan for getting rid of the backlog. Unfortunately, they found the plan wanting. Not only did they estimate that the intended changes would fall short of removing the backlog by 2015, they also said that the strategy did not fit the criteria for “sound planning”.  Congress is jumping on board with attempting to pass legislation to assist the VA, because, as Mike Michaud (D-Maine) so acutely said, the backlog is “unacceptably large”. Thank you, Mike. As the VA works to implement their plans, we can likely anticipate Congress to do what it usually does – nothing.

 

Often the best way to find a solution is to figure out what is causing the problem in the first place. There are two primary factors that are contributing to the backlog. The first, and probably most potent, is the antiquated processing system that the VA is using, which is still paper-based. The second is the influx of new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom survived only because of modern health technology advances. Because of these advances, many who would have died survived but with injuries, and are now filing claims with the VA. Hopefully, the VA will be able to hit their goal of getting rid of the backlog by 2015, and we hope for veterans everywhere that justice will no longer be denied.

What Benefits Does the Military Offer?

This is a question many people ask when considering joining the military. While many people have heard about the benefits that being in the service offers, it can be hard to know for certain what benefits one would receive when they join a branch of the military. Some of the military benefits vary by which branch you are in; the Air Force Reserves will have differences in benefits from the Marine Corps, etc.

 

But for the most part, the benefits are similar across the board. As an active serviceman, you’ll receive competitive pay, and more paid vacation time per year than most similar civilian jobs. When deployed, all of the income the serviceman makes from the military is not taxed, equating to a roughly 20-25% raise, as well as up to $1000 extra per month between FSA (Family separation Allowance), HDP-L (Hardship Duty Pay- Location), HFP (Hostile Fire Pay), and per diem. Granted, there is a good reason the military provides these extra incentives for deployed servicemen. Deployment can be a very trying experience, and there is an inherent risk of death or injury.

 

In addition the the pay and vacation benefits, the military also offers free health care to servicemen and their dependents, free job training (much of which is transferable as college credit), and tuition assistance. Most of the job training you receive in the military is coveted by employers, and will give you a head start in your career if/when you decide to leave the military. The tuition assistance and the GI-Bill are generally very fair and can make college more affordable for those on active duty and those that have already left the military.

 

Whether you’re considering a career in the military or just a few years of service, it is also important to note the very generous life insurance policy that comes as a benefit of being a serviceman. A $400,000 life insurance policy can be selected for only $27/ month which is automatically deducted from your paycheck. In addition to the life insurance, for career servicemen, a fair retirement plan is in place. After 20 years, a serviceman may receive a retirement fund that is equal to 50% of his/her highest pay rate.

 

While benefits are important to consider no matter what decision you’re making, they are far from the only factor involved. Military life can be hard on families, place restrictions on where you live, how long you live there, and even what you do in your spare time. If you’re serious about considering joining the military, an important step will be to speak with a recruiter and find out what you can expect from military life.

Military Benefits of Recently Returning Vets (Part 2)

In this second part of a two-part series, I will be reminding you of additional benefits generally available to members of the military. Once again, specific program policies are tied to the length of your military service, the circumstances surrounding that period of service, and whether you are still active, in reserve or discharged.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a range of benefits to returning service members and other veterans. The VA website provides detailed information on all of these topics, as well as links to other resources.

Health

Veterans who served in combat since Nov. 11, 1998, are eligible to receive five years of cost-free health for any injury or illness associated with your service. This includes cost-free health care from VA for conditions that are potentially related to service in your theater of operations. You can call the VA Health Benefits Call Center toll free at 1-877-222-8387 to get the latest on VA health care eligibility and enrollment.

Follow these steps to access your health benefits today:

  1. Identify a VA Medical Center for you to visit.
  2. Complete VA Form 10-10EZ and submit it.
  3. Remember to bring your military separation form (DD214) on your first VA Medical Center visit.
  4. Your regional VA office can help you with completing and filing the right forms.

VA can provide screening exams for depression, substance abuse, PTSD, military sexual trauma, and TBI, to name a few. Full VA health care includes inpatient and outpatient treatment, prescription services, and preventive care. The VA also has limited benefits for ambulance service, eyeglasses and hearing aids, non-VA care, prosthetics, and the purchase of durable medical equipment.

Mental Health Benefits
The VA provides many mental health services and some counseling services as a part of its military benefits program. Available services include:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Management of Depression
  • Anxiety, Stress
  • Adjustment from Deployment
  • Counseling and Medication
  • Military Sexual Trauma
  • Family and Parenting Issues
  • Treatment for Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Women Veterans

With the growing numbers of women in the military, and with the recent admission of women into combat roles, the VA has updated its primary care health benefits for women veterans to include:

  • General care includes health evaluation and counseling, disease prevention, nutrition counseling, weight control, smoking cessation, and substance abuse treatment as well as gender-specific primary care, e.g., cervical cancer screens (Pap smears), breast cancer screens (mammograms), birth control, menopausal support (hormone replacement therapy).
  • Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Special services are available to women who have experienced MST. VA provides free, confidential counseling and treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST.
  • Mental health includes evaluation and assistance for issues such as depression, mood, and anxiety disorders; intimate partner and domestic violence; elder abuse or neglect; parenting and anger management; and marital, caregiver, or family-related stress

In addition to its primary care services, the VA provides specialty care health benefits for Women Veterans that includes:

  • Management and screening of chronic conditions include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, glandular disorders, osteoporosis, and fibromyalgia
  • Sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
  • Reproductive health care includes maternity care, infertility evaluation and limited treatment; urinary incontinence, and others.
  • Rehabilitation, homebound, and long-term care, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, exercise therapy, recreational therapy, and vocational therapy.

Disabilities

The VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program helps active-duty service members and veterans who have service-connected disabilities become suitably employed, maintain employment, or achieve independence in daily living.

The basic eligibility requirement for prosthetic items is that you are enrolled in the VA system and your provider requests an item and gives a proper medical justification for the item. Among the programs available to those with disabilities are:

  • Automobile Adaptive Equipment
  • Home Improvement & Structural Alterations (HISA) Grant
  • Clothing Allowance
  • Hearing Aids
  • Orthotic & Prosthetic Devices

You can find additional detailed information about VA benefits or programs by contacting your regional VA office. VA benefits and programs are explained in detail at http://www.va.gov.

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History of the VA Loan

A VA loan is a mortgage loan that is guaranteed by the US Departments of Veterans Affairs. The VA loan program assists Veterans who have served in the armed services become homeowners. The basic intention of the VA direct home loan program is to supply home financing to eligible veterans in areas where private financing is not generally available and to help veterans purchase properties with no down payment.

The Current VA loan mortgage is a byproduct of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, more commonly called the GI Bill of Rights, which was passed by Congress in 1944. Harry W. Colmery, a World War I Veteran, wrote the first draft of the G.I. Bill. The G.I. Bill provided college or vocational education for returning World War II veterans, one-year compensation for out of work veterans and also provided different loan types to Veterans to buy homes or start a business. The G.I. bill provided low interest, zero down payment home loans for servicemen. The G.I. bill was created to prevent a repetition of the Bonus March of 1932, in which World War I Veterans marched on Washington DC demanding payments of their World War I bonuses. The Bonus March was dispersed by the army and the Veterans were not paid.

The G.I. Bill is considered one o the most significant pieces of legislation ever passed by the U.S. Congress. The education benefits opened College education to the masses, in 1947, veterans made up almost half of the nation’s college students. It allowed millions of families to purchase their first homes and moved many families out of urban apartments and into suburban homes and resulted in the suburbanization of the American in the 1950’s and the postwar baby boom. Prior to the war, suburbs tended to be the homes of the wealthy and upper class. The G.I. bill effectively created the American middle class that we know today.

The Success of the 1944 G.I. bill prompted the government to offer similar measures to later generations of Veterans. The Veterans Adjustment Act of 1952 offered veterans of the Korean Conflict that served for more than 90 days, similar benefits that were offered through the G.I. Bill. These bills eventually lead to the Veterans Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966. Whereas the G.I. Bill of 1944 and 1952 compensated veterans of wartime service, the new bill extended benefits to Veterans who served in war and peace.

Further acts were passed in Congress in following years. The Veterans Housing Act of 1970 removed all termination dates for applying for VA housing loan and also provided VA loans for mobile homes. The Veterans Housing Benefits Improvement Act of 1978 expanded and increased previous benefits given to Veterans. In 1992, the VA loan guarantee program was enlarged to include Reservists and National Guard personnel who served honorably for at least six years. In association with the VA’s program, the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act protects service members from financial woes on their home loan that may occur as a result of active duty commitments, freezing their interest rates at 6%. These acts have allowed Veterans through the years to buy homes when the might not have been able to on their own.

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