Veterans & Their Benefits

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Posted in 2016

Veterans are entitled to certain benefits and services as a result of their service to our country. These benefits and services are administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the “VA,” by legislative authority found in Title 38 of the United States Code.

The genesis of veterans benefits in North America can be traced back to 1636, when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with the Pequot Indians. The Pilgrims passed a law, which stated that disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony.

The Continental Congress of 1776 passed legislation providing pensions for soldiers who were disabled, in order to get more people to join in the war effort. In 1811, the United States passed legislation establishing the first domiciliary and medical facility for veterans. Prior to that point in time, medical care for veterans was provided by each individual state and local community.

In the 19th century, the Nation’s veterans assistance program was expanded to include benefits and pensions not only for veterans, but also their widows and dependents.

After the Civil War, many State veterans homes were established. Since domiciliary care was available at all State veterans homes, incidental medical and hospital treatment was provided for all injuries and diseases, whether or not of service origin. Indigent and disabled veterans of the Civil War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, and Mexican Border period, as well as discharged regular members of the Armed Forces, were cared for at these homes.

Congress established a new system of veterans benefits when the United States entered World War I in 1917. This system included programs for disability compensation, insurance for service persons and veterans, and vocational rehabilitation for the disabled. By the 1920s, the various benefits were administered by three different Federal agencies: the Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department, and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

The establishment of the Veterans Administration came in 1930 when Congress authorized the President to “consolidate and coordinate Government activities affecting war veterans.” The three component agencies became bureaus within the Veterans Administration.

World War II resulted in a vast increase in the veteran population, and Congress responded by establishing a large number of new benefits for veterans of the war. The World War II GI Bill, signed into law on June 22, 1944, is said to have had more impact on the American way of life than any law since the Homestead Act of 1862. Educational assistance acts were passed for the benefit of veterans of the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam Era, Persian Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars.

To be eligible for most VA benefits a person has to be discharged from “active military service” under other than dishonorable conditions. Active service means full-time service, other than active duty for training, as a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. The benefits include VA Healthcare, Readjustment Counseling Services, Home Improvement for veterans with service connected disabilities, Mental Health Treatment, Dental Treatment, Nursing Home Programs, Disability Benefit Payments, Pensions, Education and Training (the “GI Bill”), the Home Loan Guaranty Program, Burial and Memorial Benefits, Dependents and Survivor Benefits, and much more. The VA also provides special assistance for children of veterans born with Spina Bifida to Vietnam and Korean Veterans.

A benefit that often goes unused by Veterans and their families is the Aid and Attendance benefit. Aid and Attendance can cover the costs of caregivers in the home (including sons and daughters who are paid to be caregivers, though not spouses) or be used for assisted living or a nursing home. The benefit can provide quite a boost in hiring help for a homebound veteran. It pays up to $2,019 monthly for a veteran and spouse, and up to $1,094 for the widow of a veteran.

Randal Noller, a VA spokesman in Washington, stated in 2011 that the Aid and Attendance benefit was one of the “lesser known” VA benefits. In 2011, of the 1.7 million living World War II veterans, only 38,076 of them were receiving Aid and Attendance benefits, and only 38,685 of surviving spouses were signed up for the benefit. There are certain income restrictions, but many people readily meet those requirements by the time the allowable deductions for healthcare and assistance are factored in.

It’s almost like the VA is hiding the ball on this benefit. VA criteria states that a veteran or his or her spouse has to be 100% disabled to be eligible for this benefit. What the VA doesn’t readily disclose is that, by law, veterans are considered 100% disabled at age 65.

Obtaining VA benefits can be an arduous process. Many veterans and their families find the paperwork and the process to be too much. Veterans and their family members may request the services of an accredited veterans attorney if (a) the regional office has denied the claim, (b) the claimant has filed a notice of disagreement (NOD) with that decision, and (c) the NOD was filed on or after June 20, 2007. (For claims in which the NOD was filed before June 20, 2007, the claimant generally cannot hire an attorney until the Board of Veterans Appeals denies the claim.)

Since the beginning of this nation, our government has provided some form of assistance to veterans of its conflicts. Whether as an incentive for people to enlist in the service, or as a duty owed by our citizens to those who have given so much in service to our nation, veterans benefits are available to those who qualify. Since the nation has sent tens of thousands of troops into harm’s way over the past 50 years, the number of veterans eligible for these benefits is certain to remain steady. And if the past is any indication of what the future holds, many of these veterans will need some form of assistance in obtaining these benefits. We continue to do our part in assisting veterans with their claims for benefits they are entitled to receive.

Derek L. Hall is a founding member of the VA Benefits Law Group, PLLC, Derek L. Hall & Gregory D. Keenum, Attorneys. He is an accredited veterans attorney and is certified to practice before the Veterans Administration at all levels from the Regional Office up through the United States Court of Veterans Claims. For more information, he can be reached at 601-414-3717, or 1764 Lelia Drive, Jackson, Mississippi, 39216, derek@vabenefitslawgroup.com. His firm website is www.vabenfitslawgroup.com.