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Why the VA is botching cash housing stipends for 360,000 GI Bill users

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VA is Botching

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include additional information from the VA.

It’s nearly October, and the fall semester at colleges across the country is already in full swing.

Yet because of technical problems, about 360,000 GI Bill users are still receiving the wrong amount of money for their housing stipends.

Under the Forever GI Bill, signed into law by President Trump last year, the VA was supposed to change the way it calculates monthly housing stipends for students attending classes at a location other than their school’s main campus, starting Aug. 1. Payments were also supposed to reflect the same 2018 rate that an active-duty E-5 with dependents would receive for housing.

These changes required significant updates for the VA’s Office of Information and Technology, which encountered “several critical errors” during testing, VA spokesman Curt Cashour said in an email.

Rather than move forward with a flawed system, the VA has told schools to certify students’ GI Bill claims under the old rules, resulting in inaccurate payments to about 360,000 of the 392,459 currently using GI Bill benefits.

While Cashour said the VA is “working diligently to resolve the outstanding issues and deploy the software solution as soon as possible,” he did not provide an expected completion date.

Michelle Reitze, assistant vice president in the Veterans Certification Office at the University of Maryland University College, said some students may not even realize that they’re not receiving the right amount on their housing stipend, because it matches what they received last year or because the difference is small.

The monthly housing allowance rate increased by less than 1 percent between 2017 and 2018, on average, according to Cashour.

Where things could get hairy is after the VA software is up and running, when schools will likely have to rerun students’ claims to ensure they receive what they’re owed retroactively, Reitze said. She emphasized that she was speaking based on her own experience and not on behalf of UMUC.

Advocates for Veterans in higher education wrote in a letter to VA Sec. Robert Wilkie earlier this month that incorrect payments “are asking Veterans, their families, and schools to bear the burden of VA’s problems.” The organizations, which include AMVETS, Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Student Veterans of America and 11 others, called for correct and prompt payments, greater communication to students, and reassurance on payment discrepancies.

The VA has said it will correct any discrepancies between what students were paid and what they should have been paid once the software updates are live. If students are overpaid, “no debts will be collected as those amounts will be waived as administrative errors” and students will be paid the correct amount going forward.

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VA achieves historic goal by delivering 81,000 appeals decisions to Veterans in fiscal 2018

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On Sept. 14, two weeks ahead of schedule, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) exceeded its goal to deliver 81,000 appeals decisions of disability benefits and services to Veterans in fiscal year 2018 — 28,000 more decisions than the previous year.

In doing so, VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals provided thousands of Veterans with critical, life-changing decisions.

“The Board’s historic achievement delivering results to Veterans and their families reflects VA’s hard work and commitment to getting it right for our Veterans under the leadership of President Trump,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Together, we have achieved significant results for our nation’s Veterans, as each of the more than 81,000 decisions produced by the Board can make a real difference in their lives and for their families.”

The achievements come amid focused Board efforts to prepare for the full implementation of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, which is transforming a historically complex appeals process into a simple, timely and transparent process providing Veterans with increased choice and control. Veterans who disagree with the initial claim decision have three options under the Act:

  1. Higher Level Review at the office of original jurisdiction
  2. Supplemental Claim with the office of original jurisdiction
  3. Appeal to the Board

Once a Veteran appeals to the Board, he or she remains in control of the process by choosing one of three docketsbest suited to the appeal:

  1. Direct Review Docket
  2. Evidence Docket
  3. Hearing Docket

To support the various organizations preparing to help Veterans navigate the new appeals process, the chairman of the Board and her staff led numerous training sessions and panels held by national, state and local Veteran Service Organizations and private legal organizations.

To maintain its momentum, the Board hired 186 new attorneys this fiscal year, and plans to add 30 more to the team by Sept. 30. Additionally, the Board is joining the Military Spouse Employment Partnership in October, and looks forward to participating in a program that helps bring the valuable insights and tremendous talent of military spouses to the Board.

For more information about the Board and its progress on appeals modernization, visit www.bva.va.gov.

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Veterans Pension

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Supplemental Income for Wartime Veterans

VA helps Veterans and their families cope with financial challenges by providing supplemental income through the Veterans Pension benefit. Veterans Pension is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to low-income wartime Veterans.

Eligibility

Generally, a Veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty service, with at least one day during a wartime period to qualify for a VA Pension. If you entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally you must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which you were called or ordered to active duty (with some exceptions), with at least one day during a wartime period.

In addition to meeting minimum service requirements, the Veteran must be:

  • Age 65 or older, OR
  • Totally and permanently disabled, OR
  • A patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR
  • Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, OR
  • Receiving Supplemental Security Income

Your yearly family income must be less than the amount set by Congress to qualify for the Veterans Pension benefit. Learn more about income and net worth limitation, and see an example of how VA calculates the VA Pension benefit.

Additional Pension Allowances

Veterans or surviving spouses who are eligible for VA pension and are housebound or require the aid and attendance of another person may be eligible for an additional monetary payment.

How To Apply

You can apply for Veterans Pension online or download and complete VA Form 21P-527EZ, “Application for Pension”. You can mail your application to the Pension Management Center (PMC) that serves your state. You may also visit your local regional benefit office and turn in your application for processing. You can locate your local regional benefit office using the VA Facility Locator

To apply for increased pension based on A&A or Housebound payments, write to the PMC that serves your state and provide medical evidence, such as a doctor’s report, that validates the need for an increased benefit.

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Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC)

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Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC) is a program that was created for disability and non-disability military retirees with combat-related disabilities.  It is a tax free entitlement that you will be paid each month along with any retired pay you may already be receiving.

Eligibility 
To qualify for
CRSC you must:

  • be entitled to and/or receiving military retired pay
  • be rated at least 10 percent  by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA)
  • waive your VA pay from your retired pay
  • file a CRSC application with your Branch of Service

Disabilities that may be considered combat related include injuries incurred as a direct result of:

  • Armed Conflict
  • Hazardous Duty
  • An Instrumentality of War
  • Simulated War

Retroactive Payment 

In addition to monthly CRSC payments, you may be eligible for a retroactive payment.  DFAS will audit your account to determine whether or not you are due retroactive payment. An audit of your account requires researching pay information from both DFAS and VA.


If you are due any money from DFAS, you will receive it within 30-60 days of receipt of your first
CRSC monthly payment. If DFAS finds that you are also due a retroactive payment from the VA, we will forward an audit to the VA. They are responsible for paying any money they may owe you.

Your retroactive payment date may go back as far as
June 1, 2003, but can be limited based on:

  • your overall CRSC start date as awarded by your Branch of Service
  • your Purple Heart eligibility
  • your retirement date
  • your retirement law (disability or non-disability)
  • six-year barring statute

Disability retirees with less than 20 years of service will be automatically limited to a retroactive date of January 1, 2008 as required by legislation passed by Congress effective 2008.  

All retroactive pay is limited to six years from the date the VA awarded compensation for each disability.

If you have questions about your
CRSC eligibility, please call us at 800-321-1080 or contact your Branch of Service.

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Hearing Loss Services for Enrolled Veterans – No Referral Needed

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Hearing Loss

 

Almost half of all Americans over 65 have some form of hearing loss.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are the most prevalent service-connected disabilities of all compensation recipients among Veterans.

And it’s not a recent problem. Auditory system disabilities (including hearing loss and tinnitus) are among the most common service-related disabilities in every period of service since WWII.

The most common type of hearing loss among Veterans is a high-frequency hearing loss that varies in severity from mild to profound. This type of hearing loss is generally caused by noise exposure, age or both.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the medical term for the perception of sound in the ears or head when no external noise is present.

The sound can be intermittent or constant, range in severity from mild to severe, and is often described as a ringing, roaring or humming sound.

Although the cause of tinnitus is unknown, there are likely sources that trigger or worsen tinnitus:

  • Hearing loss
  • Noise exposure
  • Injury to head or neck
  • Stress
  • Excessive ear wax
  • Ototoxicity – drug or chemical damage to the inner

Currently, there is no cure for tinnitus. However, there are treatment options. The most common include education, sound therapy (including hearing aids), and counseling/psychotherapy.

The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids and/or cochlear implants. Audiologists work with Veterans and their families to improve communication by using advanced technologies and extensive counseling.

VA offers comprehensive care services to Veterans with hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance disorders. We are the largest employer of audiologists in the United States, employing over 1,300 audiologists.

Audiology TeleHealth

Through the use of Clinical Video Telehealth, over 70 medical centers currently provide care to 210 VA clinics by connecting patients with providers at the medical center. Services available through telehealth include hearing evaluations, hearing aid fittings and follow-ups, auditory rehabilitation and tinnitus management. The VA Audiology and Speech Pathology National Program Office is also exploring ways to provide services directly into the Veteran’s home through computer technologies and mobile device applications.

Who is eligible for audiology care?

All Veterans enrolled in VA’s health care system are eligible for comprehensive audiology diagnostic evaluations. Specific eligibility rules apply to hearing aid services. Ask your VA doctor for a hearing test if you have concerns about your hearing.

No need for a referral

According to Dr. Rachel McArdle, “Veterans who are enrolled and eligible for VA care can call their VA audiology clinic and ask to be scheduled to have their hearing tested. Additionally, they can always stop at the audiology clinic if they are already at the hospital or clinic for another appointment and ask to be scheduled.” Dr. McArdle is the National Director of Audiology and Speech Pathology.

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VA’s Veterans Cemetery Grants Program

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Cemetery Grants

 

The Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Cemetery Grants Program was established in 1978 to complement VA’s National Cemetery Administration. The program assists states, territories and federally recognized tribal governments in providing gravesites for Veterans in those areas where VA’s national cemeteries cannot fully satisfy their burial needs. Any cemetery assisted by a VA grant must be maintained and operated according to the operational standards and measures of the National Cemetery Administration.

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Military expands OneSource benefits to separated Veterans

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OneSource

 

The Department of Defense announced on Aug. 13, 2018, it will extend eligibility for Military OneSource benefits from the current 180 days to 365 days after separation or retirement from military service to ensure all service members and families have access to comprehensive support as they transition to civilian life. This change goes into effect Aug. 13, 2018, in accordance with the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019.

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