“For those who fight for it, life has a flavor the protected never know.”
– Inscription on the back of a flak jacket worn by a Marine machine-gunner on the demilitarized zone (DMZ), Republic of Vietnam, 1968.
Posted: July 4, 2017
Crucial VA Changes
If you are a wartime veteran, or a family member of a wartime veteran, you have probably heard conflicting information regarding proposed changes to the eligibility rules for the Aid & Attendance Pension (A&A) offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This is a brief summary of the eligibility requirements for the current A&A rules, and an update on the proposed rule changes.
Eligibility for the Aid & Attendance Pension
A&A is a tax-free monthly benefit paid to wartime veterans or their spouses/dependents. The benefit ranges from $8,000-$34,000/year, depending on a number of factors, including the following eligibility requirements:
1. Service: applicants must be “wartime” veterans (or their spouse/dependent). “Wartime” means at least 90 consecutive days of active duty service, at least 1 day of which was during a recognized wartime period.
2. Health: generally, applicants must be “disabled” (i.e. they must be 65 or older and require assistance with at least 2 “activities of daily living”) – regardless of whether they are at home or in a healthcare facility;
3. Income: applicants’ income must be significantly reduced by qualified recurring monthly medical expenses; and
4. Assets: applicants may not have significant assets.
On January 23, 2015, the VA published a proposal to significantly change the rules regarding eligibility for A&A benefits. Proposed changes included:
• Establishing a “bright line” rule for net worth limitations;
• Establishing a 3-year “look back” period for asset transfers prior to application for benefits;
• Imposition of a penalty period (of ineligibility for benefits), with respect to any improper transfers of assets during the “look back” period; and
• Limitations on qualifying medical expenses.
The proposal was largely aimed at counteracting perceived abuses of the program (i.e. applicants sheltering significant assets in order to qualify for the benefit). However, the statistics do not support these concerns. 2015 U.S. Census data shows approximately 19 million military veterans alive in 2014. VA utilization data from 2012 shows only 315,000 recipients of A&A benefits. In other words, only 2% of veterans receive the A&A benefit.
The health and service requirements are non-negotiable, and, the purpose of the A&A benefit is to assist veterans with significant health expenses. It is relatively unlikely that individuals with significant liquid assets (available to pay significant health expenses) would elect to relinquish complete control of these assets to gain additional tax-free income – especially when significant assets might generate similar amounts of income (though not tax-free).
Following the release of the VA’s proposal, there was a public comment period (in the spring of 2016), during which the proposed changes were heavily scrutinized and challenged by attorneys and veterans’ advocacy groups. As a result, the VA has gone “back to the drawing board”, and recently indicated that the final changes will not be released prior to April 2017.
So what does this mean for you? There is still time to plan for VA eligibility under the current rules – which are far less restrictive than those which are likely to be promulgated after April 2017. For example, establishing a VA-planning trust now will likely not be retroactively subject to the proposed 3-year “look back” period. Additionally, individuals in independent-living facilities are presently able to use certain planning techniques to achieve eligibility, which will not work after April 2017.
A highly sophisticated scam targeting veterans is making its way around the United States. This new scam is targeting disabled veterans and the veterans applying for disability compensation. This highly sophisticated scam makes use of new telephone technology that gives the impression the scammer is actually calling from a veterans' local VA Regional Office.
Question: I have a claim in appeal process. I was stationed at Anderson AFB Guam from Oct 68 to Jan 1970. While there I went to Cameron Bay South Vietnam the last week of Oct 1969 first week of Nov 1969, went back to Guam and was processed out honorably discharged Jan 1970. I was paid while in Vietnam. I have requested my pay records but was told the VA does not have any record of my pay records. I have made my claim in April 2013. My question, How can I prove I was in Vietnam without orders?
Question: I am a member of Veterans choice. I recently went to my assigned doctor for a wrist problem. He told me to get an x-ray, so I went to the local hospital and got one. I've been tormented by them ever since demanding $400. Nobody told me I would have to contact VA first. What am I to do?
Standing Together to Empower Military Sexual Trauma Survivors
Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is an annual campaign in April to raise public awareness about sexual assault. In its SAAM campaign, VA focuses in particular on sexual assault and sexual harassment occurring during military service – also known as “military sexual trauma” or “MST.” This year, VA’s national theme for SAAM activities is “Standing Together to Empower Military Sexual Trauma Survivors”.
Reflecting on the theme, Timiko Ilion, LPMHC, the MST Coordinator at the Jackson (MS) VA Medical Center, comments that it is about “people from all walks of life embracing one another and providing encouragement to all survivors of military sexual trauma….letting them know that they are not alone and that there is hope, strength, and solidarity for better days ahead.” Rebecca Robinson, LCSW, the MST Coordinator at the White River Junction VA Medical Center, notes that the theme reminds her of the work she does throughout the year to include survivors’ voices in any outreach or educational efforts she engages in. “Veterans in my groups offer thoughts that I subsequently read to the participants I’m presenting to. It gives survivors a chance to speak for themselves and advocate, and feel empowered to be part of our MST response in Vermont.”
In VA, Veterans who experienced MST have access to a wide range of services to assist them in their recovery. MST-related treatment is available at all VA medical facilities and all treatment for physical and mental health conditions related to experiences of MST is provided free of charge. Veterans may be eligible for free MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA services, and service connection (VA disability compensation) is not required. No documentation of MST experiences is required. In addition, every VA healthcare system has an MST Coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues at the facility and can help Veterans access relevant VA services and programs.
Sadly, about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men seen for VA health care report a history of MST when screened by a VA provider. Although the percentage among women is much higher, given the far greater number of men in military service, there are significant numbers of both men and women who have experienced MST. In fact, over 40% of the Veterans seen in VA who disclose MST are men.
Because of this, MST Coordinators and other VA staff make special efforts during SAAM to show support for Veterans who experienced MST, by hosting awareness-raising and educational events. Also, VA’s Make the Connection website has video clips of Veterans sharing their stories of recovery, as a reminder that survivors are not alone in having experienced MST or in having the strength to recover.
For more information, Veterans can speak with a VA health care provider, contact the MST Coordinator at their nearest VA medical center, or contact their local Vet Center. A list of VA and Vet Center facilities can be found at www.va.gov. VA staff can find information on the VA intranet at http://vaww.mst.va.gov.
Military sexual trauma (MST) is the term that the Department of Veterans Affairs uses to refer to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the Veteran was in the military. It includes any sexual activity in which one is involved against one’s will – he or she may have been pressured into sexual activities (for example, with threats of negative consequences for refusing to be sexually cooperative or with implied faster promotions or better treatment in exchange for sex), may have been unable to consent to sexual activities (for example, when intoxicated), or may have been physically forced into sexual activities. Other experiences that fall into the category of MST include unwanted sexual touching or grabbing; threatening, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities; and/or threatening or unwelcome sexual advances.
Both women and men can experience MST during their service. All Veterans seen at Veterans Health Administration facilities are asked about experiences of sexual trauma because we know that any type of trauma can affect a person’s physical and mental health, even many years later. We also know that people can recover from trauma. VA has free services to help Veterans do this. You do not need to have a VA disability rating (i.e., “service connected”) to receive these services and may be able to receive services even if you are not eligible for other VA care. You do not need to have reported the incident(s) when they happened or have other documentation that they occurred.
VA’s rule establishes presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure to contaminants in water supply at Camp Lejeune
VA to provide disability benefits for related diseases
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) regulations to establish presumptions for the service connection of eight diseases associated with exposure to contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, are effective as of today.
“Establishing these presumptions is a demonstration of our commitment to care for those who have served our nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David J. Shulkin. “The Camp Lejeune presumptions will make it easier for those Veterans to receive the care and benefits they earned.”
The presumption of service connection applies to active-duty, reserve and National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune for a minimum of 30 days (cumulative) between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, and are diagnosed with any of the following conditions:
• Adult leukemia
• Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
• Bladder cancer
• Kidney cancer
• Liver cancer
• Multiple myeloma
• Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
• Parkinson’s disease
The area included in this presumption is all of Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River, including satellite camps and housing areas.
This presumption complements the health care already provided for 15 illnesses or conditions as part of the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. The Camp Lejeune Act requires VA to provide health care to Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune, and to reimburse family members or pay providers for medical expenses for those who resided there for not fewer than 30 days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987.
A typo on Joseph Noil's death certificate led to the mistake being repeated on his headstone with no indication that the remains buried beneath the ground were those of a Medal of Honor recipient. His headstone will be replaced with a Medal of Honor headstone befitting of his service and bearing the correct spelling of his name.
The summit will promote collaboration between private industries, national/professional sports organizations, the federal government, innovators, scientists, athletes, clinicians, caregivers and Veterans.
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