Aging Gracefully in the VA: Collecting Disability Benefits in Your Golden Years
Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso
There are over 76 million baby boomers in the United States. Over 10 million of those baby boomers are Veterans. When you include the Silent and Greatest Generations, you are looking at nearly 15 million Veterans who have reached retirement age and may be in need of senior services beyond just a customary discount.
Senior Veterans have an increased likelihood to not utilize their VA benefits to their full extent. In many cases, seniors might not actually even be aware of the benefits for which they are eligible. The underutilized benefits begin with compensation. Most elderly veterans are entitled to receive compensation above and beyond the service-related compensation. In fact, there are a variety of health care programs that are actually common benefits for those who might need them.
Did you know that Elderly Veterans are entitled to Aid and Attendance? This is a program available for veterans who need help with basic daily functions. Bed-ridden, blind, nursing home Veterans can all enlist the help of an attendant to assist with their daily needs. Housebound Veterans who are unable to leave their home as a result of their disability are also eligible for similar services. Adult Day Health Care can also be life changing to elderly Veterans in need. As we age, our needs change, and Adult Day Health Care helps address and fulfill many of those needs. From companionship to recreational activity and care from therapists to nurses, the care provided might literally be life changing.
When health care needs go beyond the scope of companionship, Home Based Primary Care might be the route a family would want to take. This program brings a VA doctor into the home of the Veteran. That VA doctor will supervise an entire team that will meet and perform services within the home. This option is for veterans with health issues that are beyond the scope of care that can be provided by a clinic. Homemaker and Home Health Aides are available as well to help with daily care. This service would be customized for a Veteran who requires daily living assistance.
As age and illnesses progress, more intense services may be required to fully assist in the patient’s care. Palliative Care tends to those needs with the goal of managing pain, suffering, and symptoms. Palliative Care comes into work with the veteran and their families to evaluate the needs of the patient and put a plan into place that will best control a patient’s symptoms. When a patient is given less than six months to live, Veterans are eligible to receive Hospice Care.
Veterans that are confined to their home or live too great of a distance from their local VA are eligible for Skilled Home Health Care. The VA contracts with a local provider to ensure the needs of the Veteran are appropriately met. The care doesn’t end with the Veteran. The VA understands that the family of a Veteran can get worn out as well. Respite Care comes in to give the family of the elderly or infirmed Veteran a break from their day-to-day responsibilities and work.
The VA is aware that different cases require different solutions. Telehealth gives nurses and doctors access to monitoring equipment so that a veteran can stay in their own home while still receiving care. Veteran Directed Care provides case management and allows a Veteran and family to completely customize a health care plan to ensure their needs are being met. This might include skilled in-home services, daily assistance or medical needs.
Our Veterans are aging with every passing day. As their need for care increases, it is likely that the types of care provided will increase as well. For now, however, the list of care options is fairly comprehensive and many of the options will help address those needs.
New VA Medical Center in Redding, CA Plans Underway
Just a few months after the existing VA medical center in Redding, CA was threatened by nearby wildfires, the VA has awarded a lease for a new medical facility. The new complex will rehome the two existing VA treatment facilities in Redding as well as increase the amount of space available for medical professionals. This new facility will serve more than 60,000 Veterans. In addition to all of the services currently provided, the new facility in Redding will have room for 17 new mental health providers, a mammography center and a second x-ray center.
The lease award in Redding is just one of thirteen major leases that have been awarded across the country.
“These awards are the next step in increasing access for our Veterans across the country,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA stands firm in ensuring our Veterans are treated in state-of-the-art facilities and continue to access the high quality of care VA is able to provide.”
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
New Port Richey, Florida
Ponce, Puerto Rico
San Antonio, Texas
While timelines have not been provided for these projects, the VA is hopeful to have construction underway as quickly as possible.
Loan Benefits: How the VA Helps You
Can you imagine getting a home loan without a down payment? How about avoiding PMI? Your VA Loan Benefit can make both of those home-buying pitfalls completely avoidable in many cases.
Veterans and active duty servicemembers are eligible to apply for VA Loan Benefits, which can make the home buying process easier and more affordable. In many cases, eligible homebuyers do not need to have a down payment. In contrast, FHA loans require 3.5% down payment and conventional loans are typical around 5%. This is a huge savings for the home buyer!
Another benefit to a VA Loan is the avoidance of mortgage insurance premiums. PMI is required in other loans. Conventional loans require PMI when the down payment is less than 20%. FHA Loans require PMI that have an annual cost in addition to the upfront charges. Avoiding the PMI provides a significant savings to the home buyer – and so does limiting the closing costs, another VA Loan perk. Sellers can be required to pay all of your closing costs – and up to 4% in concessions!
VA Loan Benefits will provide you the comfort of lower average interest rates than other lenders. There is no prepayment penalty on a VA loan, which means VA home buyers can pay off a loan early without any penalties or financial repercussions.
If a Veteran has already used their loan benefits, they may still be eligible for VA financing through “Second Tier Entitlement.” This allows Veterans to restore loan entitlement and buy homes again.
The VA Loan program has two different refinancing options for eligible homeowners – one for those with an existing VA Loan and another for those who have a conventional loan and wish to refinance into the VA Loan Program.
The VA Loan Program also tries to help protect its borrowers should difficult times arise. In the event of financial hardship, a VA Loan might be assumable by another party. There are also advocates to help Veterans and active duty servicemembers avoid foreclosure.
Your VA Loan doesn’t guarantee that your house will be perfect – no house is! The VA will appraise your intended property, but this is not an inspection. It is in your best interest as a potential homebuyer to have a full home inspection performed on any house you buy.
TRICARE Open Season
Important information for all military: TRICARE Open Season, their annual open enrollment period, start today, November 12th. Between now and December 10th, there are a few things about your TRICARE coverage that you need to know.
Qualifying Life Events are major events that fall into two categories: Military changes or Family changes. Military changes include activation, deactivation, injured while active duty, moving, separating from active duty and retirement. Family changes includes marriage, divorce, birth of a child, adoption of a child, college aged children attending school, children becoming adults, becoming Medicare eligible, moving, experiencing a death in the family, loss or gain of alternate health insurance.
An Overview of the Post 9/11 GI Bill…
Contributed by Debbie Gregory
Since 1944, the GI Bill has helped millions of Veterans pay for college, graduate school, and training programs. Under this bill, qualifying Veterans and their family members can get money to cover all or some of the costs for school or training.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides education benefits for those who have served on active duty for 90 or more days after Sept. 10, 2001. The payment rate depends on how much active duty time a member has accrued.
Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition and housing allowance payments are based on the amount of creditable active-duty service after Sept. 10, 2001. Veterans who have been discharged for disability after at least 30 days of active duty automatically receive the 100% benefit tier. Active duty time for the Post-9/11 GI Bill can also include Title 10 mobilizations and some title 32 duty for reservists & guard members.
The GI Bills pays tuition and fees and provides a monthly housing allowance. The monthly Housing Allowance is based on the ZIP code of the location of the school, not the home ZIP code. This stipend averages $1,681 a month, but can exceed $2,700 depending on the location of the school. Students taking 100% of their courses online are eligible for a monthly stipend equal to half of the national average stipend, which is currently $825.
The GI Bill also provides for a stipend for books and supplies of up to $1,000 and gives veterans the opportunity to transfer their education benefits to their spouses or their children.
The newest version of the GI Bill, called the The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (also known as the “Forever GI Bill”), was signed into law on August 17, 2017, and brings significant changes to Veterans’ education benefits over the next few years. The info sheet on the new version of the GI Bill can be found at the VA’s website.
Early Medical Retirement Can Put Servicemembers’ Pensions At Risk
Life in the military isn’t easy, but if you serve long enough, the financial rewards are generous. Military pension benefits, after 20 years of service, are 50% of the final salary, paid for the rest of the rest of the servicmember’s life.
But that same pension can vanish if a servicemember is forced out of the military for health reasons.
When a military member has a medical condition (including mental health conditions) which renders them unfit to perform their required duties, they may be separated (or retired) from the military for medical reasons.
Until recently, if military members left before 20 years of service, they didn’t get any pension benefit. This leads to what’s known as “cliff vesting” around the 20-year mark. Given the obvious dangers inherent in the service, and the stress it puts on families, attrition is steep in the early years.
U.S. Code 1176 protects servicemembers nearing 20 years of service, and retirement eligibility, from being discharged or denied reenlistment without just cause. But unfortunately, it doesn’t extend to medical cases.
Military medical retirement is intended to compensate for a military career cut short because of disability. Typically, a medical retirement is issued when a medical condition is severe enough to interfere with the proper performance of your military duties.
For servicemembers who have less than 20 years of service, to be permanently retired, they must be found unfit due to a “stable” condition rated at 30% or higher. Stable means unlikely to change enough to qualify for a revised disability rating.
Retirement pay will be the retired base pay multiplied by the percentage assigned to the disability. Retired base pay is calculated by averaging the highest 36 months of basic pay.
Is Privatization of the VA an Option?
The Department of Veterans Affairs has been offering care since the World War II era, starting with the then-Veterans Administration’s Hometown Program that began in 1945. Now there is talk abounding that the VA is headed towards privatization. But exactly what is the definition of what privatization of the VA would be?
On the VA website, an article titled “Debunking the VA Privatization Myth” quotes House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe saying, “If we’re trying to privatize, we’re not doing a very good job,”…”We’ve gone from 250,000 employees in the VA in 2009 to 370,000 employees, and we’ve gone from a $93.5 billion budget to what the president’s asked this year is $198 billion. It sounds like we’ve been an utter failure if we’re trying to privatize.”
About $72 billion of VA’s budget this fiscal year goes to medical care, and the department has more than 1,200 medical facilities nationwide. But veterans groups contend that the increase has more to do with inflation and increased demands on the VA than anything else.
There is bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill to any type of privatization efforts.
During his failed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Dr. Ben Carson floated the idea of issuing health care vouchers to veterans, allowing them to choose where to have their care.This would be similar to the Veterans Choice Program, one of several VA programs through which a Veteran can receive care from a community provider, paid for by VA.
For example, if a veteran needs an appointment for a specific type of care, and the VA cannot provide the care in a timely manner or the nearest VA medical facility is too far away or too difficult to get to, then a veteran might be eligible for care through the Veterans Choice Program.
Veterans must receive prior authorization from the VA to receive care from a provider that is part of VA’s VCP network of community providers. The authorization is based on specific eligibility requirements and discussions with the veteran’s VA provider.
The battle over privatization will depend on how much medical care should go outside the department’s existing infrastructure, and what counts as too much reliance on the private sector.
The GI Bill is one of the most amazing benefits offered to those who serve. By using this benefit, veterans can earn a degree or vocational certificate, get paid while in school, and jump-start their post-military lives.
Touro University Worldwide (TUW) understands the importance of educating our country’s active military students and veterans who are preparing to enter the civilian workforce. To that end, in addition to government funding options, TUW offers discounts to to those who serve, past and present, as well as extending the benefit to their families.
Many Touro academic staff members are also veterans, and since they have walked the walk, they can provide support and guidance through the military aligned students’ academic journeys.
While there are thousands of schools throughout the country that would like to be on the receiving end of the tuition funding that military and veterans bring via the GI Bill, TUW has a tradition of commitment to their military and veteran students.
Make this the year that you get started earning the degree that will give prepare you for an exciting career in business, psychology or health and human services. Apply the skills and knowledge you acquired in the military to a bachelor’s or master’s degree with in-demand concentrations like: Cybersecurity Management, Global Management, Nonprofit Management, Human Resources Management and many more!
You’ve always risen to the challenge, make this the year that you pursue and complete your degree!
For more information, visit www.tuw.edu
In the past, graduation rates for veterans were significantly lower than those of traditional students. However, a major 2011 study by the Student Veterans of America revealed that the opposite was true. In fact, veterans are graduating at a rate close to that of more traditional students: an average 51.7 percent for veterans in comparison to 59 percent for other students, as of 2011, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In some branches of the armed services, graduation rates are even higher. Air Force veterans, for example have the highest graduation rate of all the military branches at 67 percent.
Clearly, veterans are succeeding in college more than ever before. Colleges have made great strides in eliminating many of the barriers that have stood between veterans and their academic success, and continue to find ways to provide more support for their needs.
Most researchers involved in the analysis of veteran’s issues in education note that the challenges that veterans face are similar to those faced by nontraditional students, such as those who return to school after several years in the workforce or who have financial or family obligations that keep them from devoting all of their attention to school. However, former military personnel also have unique challenges including PTSD, social or financial challenges. These are just a few of the obstacles that veterans have historically faced when seeking education. However, many colleges and universities have taken steps to become more military friendly, and develop degree programs for veterans that ensure their success.
Colleges and universities have recognized the challenges facing their military veterans, and are developing programs and resources to support their success.
For example, many colleges are opening veteran’s centers designed to provide guidance and support in all aspects of the transition from military to civilian life. Some universities are also offering more flexible options for earning degrees that better align with veterans’ needs and preferences. Online classes, fast track degree programs that offer credit for skills and education gained in the military, and open or rolling enrollment schedules are just some of the ways that universities are offering flexible options and making it possible for veterans to fit education in with their other responsibilities.
Above all, veterans are succeeding in college due to a growing acceptance of their presence and value to the overall college experience. In short, veterans are quickly becoming an important part of the student population, and schools are doing more to provide the support they need.
To learn more about the benefits for veterans at Columbia Southern University, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Military.
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