Decades after tens of thousands of troops were exposed to agent orange in the Vietnam War, many Veterans are now able to qualify for benefits. But that doesn't mean the process is easy for those who suffer.
Prior to January 1, 2020, only those who were stationed on land in Vietnam qualified for benefits. But during the war, agent orange was sprayed using helicopters and planes, which meant there was no controlling where it ended up, and impacted those on ships.
“There’s evidence that what would happen is that it would drain into rivers then drain into bays and then boats would pick it up. The ships would pick it up and use it for a drinking water,” said attorney Matthew Hill.
And while the new law helps, to get the benefits, Hill said the Veteran must prove their ship was in Vietnamese territory. It's a process that can be quite difficult.
“It’s a little tricky to figure out where the ship was, a person would have to say, I was on this ship for year and know if it ever reached a specific point in the water. The only way they can tell that is with deck logs. That’s the logs that showed where the ships were” added Hill
But, to make things even harder; many of those records are no longer public. And unless the Veteran has their own ship logs, there is little to no evidence to support the claim for benefits.
“The VA is developing their internal technology, but there is two challenges to that. One, they're not sharing it. Veterans can’t just go and say this was where I was. And two, what they did is, they took all the deck logs from the national archives and they won’t let anyone else see them,” said Hill.
To help, the law firm of Hill & Ponton created an interactive crowd-sourcing map where Veterans can upload their logs to help other Veterans find their ship and it’s all in hopes of assisting those who need it the most get the benefits they deserve.
“It’s a game changer for these people most of them individuals are not wealthy they need these benefits. They’re dealing with such awful diseases, they need healthcare top-tier healthcare” added Hill.
The military has failed to meet deadlines set by Congress for rulings on Veterans' requests to correct records blocking them from receiving benefits, according to a federal class-action lawsuit filed last month.
The suit brought by the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) charges that delays in processing the requests by the Boards for Correction of Military Records of the service branches amount to a denial of the due process rights of thousands of Veterans.
In an interview and in statements, Bart Stichman, executive director of NVLSP, said that rulings on "lifetime benefits" for disability and retirement are at stake in the lawsuit, which names Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly as defendants.
"Veterans who seek a correction of an erroneous less-than-honorable discharge or a wrongful denial of disability retirement benefits are paying a high price for the ongoing delays at the Correction Boards," he said.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 16, seeks to compel the "timely final decisions" of the Corrections Boards and gives the defendants until mid-February to respond, Stichman said.
Congress in 1998 set deadlines of 10 months for decisions from the Corrections Boards on 90% of existing requests for review, and 18 months for the remaining 10%, but the boards have routinely blown past the deadlines, the suit charges.
At a 2018 hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, service representatives acknowledged the backlogs but said they couldn't clear them up without additional resources.
John A. Fedrigo, director of the Air Force Review Boards Agency, testified that Air Force Corrections Boards were reviewing only about 2% of the 15,000 applications received annually within the 10-month deadline.
Robert Woods, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy, testified at the 2018 hearing that his service received about 12,000 requests for review annually but was adjudicating only 68% of them within the 18-month deadline.
The suit was filed on behalf of Walter Calhoun of Georgia, an honorably discharged Army Veteran, and unidentified Veteran "John Doe" of Kansas, also an honorably discharged Army Veteran who served in the military police in Iraq and earned the Bronze Star.
After leaving the service, Calhoun applied for Combat-Related Special Compensation due to his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and headache disorder associated with PTSD, as well as right knee degenerative arthritis and left knee osteoarthritis. His requests were denied.
In 2016, Calhoun made a final request to the Army and has been waiting nearly 36 months, or twice the 18-month deadline, for an answer, according to the suit.
Doe experienced PTSD symptoms that led to his medical separation from the Army, which denied him disability retirement benefits, according to the suit.
In July 2017, Doe requested a correction of his records to enable him to collect disability but has yet to receive a ruling from the Army Corrections Board, the suit states.
Stichman said the class-action suit represents a mix of Veterans either requesting upgrades of discharges to entitle them to benefits or requests from honorably discharged Veterans for corrections to their records.
A federal court has ruled the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot force Veterans to relinquish their Montgomery GI Bill eligibility in order to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill payouts.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims made the ruling last week, upholding a lower court’s decision in BO vs. Wilkie, according to Military Times.
VA officials must now decide if they will contest the ruling, which could provide thousands of Veterans with an extra year of college tuition benefits.
Government officials have previously argued the limitation was designed to prevent Veterans from “doubling up on their government benefits for personal profit,” according to the report.
But the court ruled instead that Veterans eligible for both programs should be able to receive payouts from each, so long as those payouts aren’t simultaneous.
“That means that Veterans who use up their 36 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits would still have access to 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits if they paid into the program while they were serving,” Military Times reports. “Under existing federal statute, any government higher education payouts are capped at 48 months.”
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides 36 months of tuition assistance and living stipends to Veterans who meet certain service requirements since Sept. 10, 2001. The Montgomery GI Bill provides 36 months of education payouts for Veterans who paid $1,200 in their first year after enlisting.
VA officials have until March 9 to appeal the decision.
Court rules again to give Veterans access to both Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bill education benefits
Federal officials have just a few weeks to decide whether to go along with a court ruling giving thousands of Veterans an extra year of college tuition benefits or appeal the order in hopes of reversing the potential billions of dollars in new payouts.
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims issued its final ruling on the case of “BO vs Wilkie,” letting stand an earlier decision that the Department of Veterans Affairs practice of making Veterans relinquish their Montgomery GI Bill eligibility in order to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill payouts is improper.
Federal officials argued in court that the arrangement is designed to make sure Veterans aren’t doubling up on their government benefits for personal profit. But the court rejected that argument, saying that instead Veterans eligible for both programs should receive each set of payouts, just not simultaneously.
That means that Veterans who use up their 36 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits would still have access to 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits if they paid into the program while they were serving. Under existing federal statute, any government higher education payouts are capped at 48 months.
VA officials appealed the ruling of a three-judge panel to the full Veterans claims court, but were denied. That started a two-month clock on appealing the case to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or allowing the ruling to stand.
Department officials in past court filings have indicated that they intend to appeal. A VA spokesman referred questions on the case to the Department of Justice. Justice officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Tim McHugh, an associate with the legal firm Hunton Andrews Kurth who led the legal fight against the VA, said if an appeal is accepted by the higher court, he is hopeful they could get a ruling on an expedited basis, possibly early enough for resolution before the 2020 fall semester.
“When they are looking at the timing of a case like this, it is appropriate for the court to consider the impact on not just the plaintiff but also everyone else,” he said.
Under current rules, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides 36 months of tuition assistance and living stipends to Veterans (or their family members) who served at least three years on active-duty after Sept. 10, 2001. The total value of those payouts can top $20,000 a year, depending on where individuals attend school.
That benefit has largely replaced the Montgomery GI Bill as Veterans’ primary education benefit. That program requires servicemembers to pay $1,200 in their first year after enlisting to be eligible for the program. Individuals who did so could receive 36 months of education payouts of nearly $2,000 last semester.
The Montgomery GI Bill still has an average of more than 130,000 new enrollees annually, but fewer than 6 percent of Veterans eligible for both education benefit programs chose the Montgomery program in recent years.
VA officials have until March 9 to appeal but are expected to announce a decision sooner than that date.
More than a week into a new benefit for about 4 million more people, there are some increases in customers, but they’re also facing some problems.
Adding to the challenge is that the new benefit, which started Jan. 1 for certain Veterans and Veteran caregivers, was launched at a time when military installations have implemented heightened security measures at their gates because of ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran. That’s meant more time-consuming security checks leading to delays and long lines of traffic at many bases. These newly eligible Veterans and Veteran caregivers must go to the visitor center for an on-the-spot background check the first time they come onto an installation, and they are in the mix of those trying to get into the installation.
Commissary officials said they’re seeing a “definite increase” in new customers shopping at several locations. As of today, the top 10 in these transactions are Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; McClellan, Calif.; March Air Reserve Base, Calif.; MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.; Patrick AFB, Fla.; Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla.; Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Orote, Guam and Travis AFB, Calif. Numbers of customers or amount of sales weren’t available from commissary officials.
Marine Corps bases are seeing light participation at exchanges and other resale programs, said Bryan Driver, spokesman for business and support services division, which operates exchanges and MWR activities.
The information provided by store officials was mostly anecdotal at this early stage. For example, more than 40 newly eligible Veterans shopped at the Naval Base Guam store on Jan. 1, and the exchange at Naval Air Station Key West has seen about 25 customers with these expanded privileges, said Navy Exchange Service Command spokeswoman Kristine Sturkie.
The new benefits were authorized by law for all Veterans with VA service-connected disability ratings; Purple Heart recipients; Veterans who are former prisoners of war; and primary family caregivers of eligible Veterans under the VA caregiver program. Previously those with a 100 percent service-connected disability rating, and Medal of Honor recipients were allowed the benefits.
According to the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, a section in the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, these populations are now entitled to access to commissaries, exchanges and certain morale, welfare and recreation facilities on the same basis as military retirees.
User fees double charged
Treasury Department officials are working to correct a system error that has resulted in double charging new customers the user fee when they used a PIN debit card. Commissary officials estimate the average overcharge is about 38 cents per transaction, said Gary Frankovich, spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency. Officials were notified of the problem Jan. 9, he said, and a temporary solution is being put into place to stop the double charges until a permanent fix is in place.
The glitch didn’t affect those using credit cards.
Anyone who was double-charged the user fee will automatically receive a refund from the Treasury Department for that amount. Officials ask that customers give officials a few days to refund the money to their cardholder accounts, Frankovich said. “Neither cardholders nor their financial institutions need to do anything to initiate a refund.”
New commissary customers with this benefit are charged a user fee to offset any increased expenses by the Treasury Department. These customers are charged 0.5 percent of transactions for PIN debit cards and 1.9 percent for credit cards. Commercial card companies charge transaction fees to retailers when customers use their cards. By law, the expansion of customers can’t include extra costs associated with using debit or credit cards in commissaries; the cost must be passed on to the customer. The user fee is only charged at commissaries, not at exchanges or other retail MWR activities, and it doesn’t apply to other previously authorized commissary customers.
Are spouses allowed on base or not?
At a number of installations, Veterans are being told their spouses or other family members can’t come onto the installation with them. Yet defense officials have told Military Times previously that these newly authorized Veterans and caregivers will be allowed to bring their spouses and family members into the stores with them as guests. These guests don’t have the new benefits, so they aren’t allowed to purchase anything. The information is also on the DoD Military OneSource website.
At MacDill, officials have published a policy that’s counter to that DoD position.
“The new legislation does not grant escort or sponsorship privileges,” according to a press release issued by the base. It states that eligible Veterans and caregivers who are granted access to the installation and to base amenities “will not be able to bring family or members or guests with them them” unless those people have base privileges through their own Veteran or military-affiliated status. Even with the limiting policy, MacDill is still among the top commissaries in terms of traffic of these new customers.
Clarification from defense officials was not immediately available. Commissary, exchange and MWR officials have no control over security procedures at installation gates.
Marine Corps Veteran Allen Compton said he called Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. — the exchange, the commissary, and the front gate — to make sure he could gain access to the base with his spouse to shop, before he drove 2 ½ hours from Tallahassee on Saturday, Jan. 4. When he arrived, the guard at the gate told him his wife wouldn’t be allowed into the base to shop.
“I found this odd, as she had been on the base numerous times with her retired father, never denied entry and never checked in, just sat in the passenger seat,” said Compton, in an email to Military Times. She also went into the commissary and exchange with her father.
When Compton and his wife went to check in at the security building, they were told they had to have an appointment, although there were only two other people waiting in the office. The next available appointment was the following Tuesday. They don’t intend to ever return, he said.
It is very important for Veterans to know about all of the benefits that they may be eligible for. Today, we will discuss benefits for a Veteran’s dependents offered by the VA. There are monthly dependent benefits, educational benefits, and even medical benefits that may be available to eligible Veterans.
Who Qualifies As a Dependent?
Eligible Veterans can add their dependents to their monthly disability compensation. An eligible Veteran is one who is already eligible for VA disability compensation and must have a combined disability rating of at least 30 percent. This monthly benefit will increase a Veteran’s monthly disability compensation. For VA purposes, a dependent is defined as a family member who relies on the Veteran financially and meets certain criteria. Examples of a dependent for VA purposes are as follows:
- A Veteran’s spouse
- Any unmarried children who are under the age of 18; or are between the age of 18 and 23 and are attending school full-time; or were disabled prior to age 18. These dependent children also include stepchildren, adopted children, and biological children.
- A Veteran’s parents who are financially dependent upon the Veteran. This benefit is based on need and the parental relationship must first be established in order to qualify.
How Do I Add Dependents to My VA Claim?
To add a dependent to a Veteran’s claim, the correct forms must be filed. A VA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents is used to add a child under the age of 18 or a spouse. To add a child who is attending school full-time between the ages of 18 and 23, a VA Form 21-574, Request for Approval of School Attendance must be filed with the VA. In order to add eligible dependent parents to a Veteran’s monthly disability compensation a VA Form 21P-509, Statement of Dependency of Parents should be submitted to the VA.
Another dependent benefit is the Dependent Educational Assistance Program (DEA). This program is apart of the GI Bill and it offers education and training to eligible survivors and dependents of Veterans. In order to be eligible, the Veteran must first be permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected disability or the Veteran died on active duty as a result of a service-connected disability. This benefit may be used for degree and certificate programs, apprenticeship, and on-the-job training. For a complete list of eligibility requirements and more information, click here.
Healthcare Benefits for Veteran’s Dependents
There are also a number of health care benefits that are available to a Veteran’s dependents. Spouses, surviving spouses, and children of a disabled Veteran may be eligible for the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). This program offers to cover the cost of some health care services and supplies. In order to be eligible, one of the following must be true:
- The spouse of a child of a Veteran who has been rated permanently and totally disabled for a service-connected disability, or
- The surviving spouse or child of a Veteran who died from a service-connected disability, or
- The surviving spouse or child of a Veteran who was at the time of death rated permanently and totally disabled from a service-connected disability, or
- The surviving spouse of or child of a service member who died in the line of duty, not due to misconduct
To find out more and how to apply for this benefit, click here.
There are many different benefits and programs available to disabled Veterans and their dependents. Our Veterans are our top priority and we believe that Veterans and their families should know about all of the benefits available to them.
How Can Veterans Earn a 100% Disability Rating & Maximum Compensation?
If you sustained an injury or developed a medical condition following active duty or another type of military service, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. However, you will need to meet certain qualifications to earn maximum compensation. This process starts with earning a 100 % VA disability rating for benefits.
There are many factors that go into a VA disability rating and full-time benefits, and the application process can be complicated. This guide will break down how Veterans can earn a 100% disability rating and as many monetary benefits as possible.
How Can You Get 100% Disability Rating?
Once an eligible Veteran is granted service-connection for a disability, the next logical question is, “How much money will I receive?” The amount of compensation benefits a Veteran receives depends on the disability rating that the VA assigns.
Disability ratings range from 10% to 100%. The idea behind these ratings is that the Veteran should be compensated according to the impairment that the disability would cause to the average person’s ability to earn a living. This compensation generally comes as monthly payments.
It can be tricky to earn a 100% disability rating when a Veteran has more than one disability. Combining two or more disabilities is a complicated process in which 50% plus 50% does not equal 100% but, rather, 75%. In fact, the closer a Veteran gets to a 100 % VA disability rating, the harder it seems to be to obtain this maximum benefit. For example, once a Veteran is rated 80% disabled, each additional 10% disability only adds 2% to his total rating rather than an additional 10%. (You can use our disability calculator to better understand these numbers.)
Meeting the criteria for a 100 % VA disability benefits on the ratings schedule, or combining multiple disabilities to obtain a 100% rating, can be very difficult. Failure to meet those criteria, however, does not mean that a Veteran is not totally disabled. For this reason, the VA regulations provide for an alternate route to a total disability rating—individual unemployability.
When a service-connected disability, or disabilities, prevents a Veteran from being able to secure and follow substantially gainful employment, he is entitled to a total disability rating based on individual unemployability (TDIU or IU). In determining whether a Veteran qualifies for TDIU, the VA should consider not only whether a Veteran is capable of getting a job but also whether he is capable of keeping a job. Any job that the Veteran is able to secure and follow must also be a job which is “substantially gainful.” In other words, the job that the Veteran is able to do must provide income which places the Veteran above the poverty level. Just keep in mind that “substantially gainful employment” does not include working in a sheltered environment such as a Veteran’s own family business or a sheltered workshop.
Under the TDIU regulation, a Veteran should automatically be considered for TDIU when there is evidence that his disabilities keep him from working and he has a qualifying disability rating. Under those circumstances, the Veteran should not even have to ask to be considered for TDIU, but we find that the VA often fails to make a determination as to TDIU unless it’s specifically requested by the Veteran. It’s important to note that the VA will probably assign the date that the Veteran asks for this increased rating as the effective date for TDIU. Be aware, however, that you may be entitled to an earlier effective date if you became unable to work earlier than the date that you actually requested that entitlement.
For purposes of the VA regulations, a qualifying rating is either a single service-connected disability with a 60% rating or multiple service-connected disabilities and a total rating of 70%. This is a simplified definition of a qualifying rating as there are many exceptions to this basic rule. For example, if the Veteran injured his back and knees in a single accident, these could be considered a single disability. Similarly, if the Veteran has multiple injuries incurred in a single combat action, these, too, could be considered a single disability.
Regardless of the schedular rating that a Veteran has been assigned for his disability or disabilities, if those disabilities prevent the Veteran from earning a living wage, he is entitled to a total disability rating based on individual unemployability.
VA Compensation Benefits Rates: How Much Compensation Are You Entitled To?
Once the VA determines a Veteran’s disability rating, they will then calculate their specific VA disability compensation. This is the total monetary amount that you would receive as Veterans benefits. There are several factors that determine this compensation.
When a single Veteran with no dependents has only one service-connected disability, it’s fairly easy to figure out the appropriate amount of benefits according to the VA’s Compensation Benefits Rate Tables. However, the numbers may not always make sense.
For instance, a Veteran with no dependents who is 100% disabled currently receives $2,673 according to the Rate Tables (at the time of this writing). A Veteran with a 50% disability rating, however, receives only $770. So, even though the Veteran with a 50% disability rating is presumed to suffer from about half of the impairment, he does not receive half of the amount of money that the 100% disabled Veteran receives—in fact, he receives only about a third.
Have VA Compensation Rates Changed?
Another issue with the current Compensation Benefits Rate Tables is that the amount of compensation benefits don’t always keep up with changes in the economy. While the cost of living continues to rise, the rates for VA benefits haven’t changed since 2009.
Again, when a Veteran suffers from two or more service-connected disabilities, they must be combined according to the VA Combined Ratings Table. Using what many Veterans refer to as “VA Math,” under the Combined Ratings Table, two 50% disability ratings do not add up to a 100% rating as most people would expect. Rather, two 50% disabilities are combined to give a Veteran a 75% disability rating ( which would then be rounded up to an 80% disability rating).
As another example, a Veteran who has two service-connected disabilities with a 50% disability rating for each is entitled only to an 80% disability rating which pays $1,427. Again, here, $1,427 is not 80% of the $2673.00 that the Veteran with a 100% disability rating receives. The Veteran with the 80% disability rating receives just over half the amount that the Veteran with the 100% VA disability rating receives.
There are several other factors that can affect total compensation, including the number of surviving family members. Veterans can receive additional benefits where they have dependent children, surviving spouses or parents. In addition, increases may be made to a Veteran’s rating if he has a disability which affects both arms or both legs. Finally, a Veteran may be eligible for additional compensation benefits called Special Monthly Compensation where he has certain types of disabilities which include the loss or loss of use of a part of the body.
Many factors affect the VA benefits that a Veteran receives, so it’s important to seek help with your disability claim. An experienced law firm can help you navigate your disability rating and compensation, so you can secure as many benefits as possible.
The Defense Department recently announced expanded commissary, military service exchange and MWR access Jan. 1 and established a standard for physical access to military installations. Below are the top 10 questions Veterans have asked the Defense Department about the expanded access. For more information on expanded access, call Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647.
Q1. How do I get access if I have a 0 percent service-connected condition, but my income is too high to get a Veteran Health Identification Card?
A1. Veterans who have received a Health Eligibility Center Form H623A that states they have been placed in VA health care priority group 8E may bring this form paired with an acceptable credential like a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a U.S. passport for installation and privilege access.
Q2. If I’ve got a DoD-issued identification card because I’m retired, a Medal of Honor recipient, or have a 100 percent VA-documented disability or unemployability rating, do I also need to have a Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC) to get access to DoD privileges?
A2. No. If you are eligible for a DoD-issued retiree, Medal of Honor, or 100 percent disabled identification card, you should obtain and use the DoD-issued card to access DoD installations and privileges. While you could use a VHIC if you had one, you would be subject to the commissary credit/debit card user fee if you paid for your commissary purchases with a commercial credit or debit card. The commissary credit/debit card user fee is not charged to DoD-issued identification card holders. Your DoD-issued identification card will also allow you broader morale, welfare, and recreation activity access.
Q3. How does the installation access process work for me and my guests; and if I have old felony activity on my record, will I be denied access to the installation?
A3. All newly eligible Veterans and caregivers and any guests traveling with them who are age 18 or older must stop at the visitor control center before entering an installation for the first time to verify identify, establish purpose for the visit, and undergo a basic on-the-spot background check.
- Newly eligible Veterans must show a Veteran Health Identification Card that displays “PURPLE HEART,” “FORMER POW,” or “SERVICE CONNECTED” below the photo on the front of the card; or a Health Eligibility Center Form H623A that states the Veteran has been placed in VA health care priority group 8E, paired with an acceptable credential like a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a U.S. passport. (DoD installations cannot accept a driver’s license that is not REAL ID-compliant as proof of identity.)
- Newly eligible caregivers must show an eligibility letter from the VA’s Office of Community Care that lists them as the Primary Family Caregiver for an eligible Veteran under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, paired with an acceptable credential like a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a U.S. passport. (DoD installations cannot accept a driver’s license that is not REAL ID-compliant as proof of identity.)
- Guests of newly eligible Veterans or caregivers who are age 18 or older must show an acceptable credential like a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a U.S. passport. (DoD installations cannot accept a driver’s license that is not REAL (ID-compliant as proof of identity.)
If the installation has credential enrollment capability and the acceptable credential(s) used are enrollable, they can be enrolled for recurring access so that the individual(s) don’t have to stop at visitor control every time they want to visit the installation. Even a guest’s acceptable credential can be enrolled. It will not allow them to enter the installation without someone who is eligible to enter the installation, but it will allow them to have their credential scanned from the car when entering with an authorized individual. This is the same process used for anyone who desires entry to an installation.
An individual may be denied access if derogatory information shows up on the background check that reflects on the integrity or character of an individual that indicates that such an individual may pose a risk to the good order, discipline, morale, or safety of a DoD installation or the resources or personnel on that installation. Examples include, but are not limited to, aspects of an individual’s criminal history or current status as wanted or as a known or appropriately suspected terrorist. There is a process for an individual with accurately identified derogatory information that prevents individuals from establishing either historic or current fitness to seek an exception due to their specific circumstances, allowing them to be granted unescorted access. DoD Components may grant unescorted access to a convicted felon, in accordance with applicable Federal, State, and local laws, after considering appropriate mitigating factors such as the nature and seriousness of the offense, the circumstances surrounding the offense, recency and frequency of the offense, the individual’s age and maturity at the time of the offense, the individual’s effort toward rehabilitation, and other factors. Under these conditions, an individual should apply directly to the installation commander requesting an exception to all allow access to the installation.
Q4. Are dependents of newly eligible Veterans and caregivers also eligible for DoD privileges?
A4. No. The Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, only gave these privileges to specific Veterans and caregivers, not to their dependents. Dependents may accompany eligible Veterans and caregivers as their guests, but they may not make purchases.
Q5. Why can’t all Veterans have these DoD privileges?
A5. The scope of operations on military installations is sized to take care of the needs of military members and their families. Military operations are not funded or sized to accommodate all Veterans. Expanding access to the 4.1 million Veterans and caregivers directed by the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018 (and that number continues to grow daily), will already be a test of DoD’s capacity. Inserting another 15 million Veterans into the mix would overwhelm the system and our military members and their families would suffer for it.
Q6. Will Veterans who choose to live overseas be able to access military installations and privileges in overseas foreign countries?
A6. It depends. U.S. law doesn’t apply outside of the United States and outside of the U.S. territories and possessions. Access in overseas foreign countries is subject to applicable host-nation laws and applicable international agreements, like status of forces agreements. The function of the installation also sometimes restricts access. It is best to check with the installation you desire to visit to find out if, as a Veteran or caregiver in one of the new Veteran or caregiver categories, you will be authorized access. Chances are that if you are a retired military member living abroad and didn’t already have access as a retiree, you will not get access under any of the new categories.
Q7. Can newly eligible Veterans and caregivers bring guests to the installations and facilities?
A7. Yes. Guests will be subject to installation access procedures described in #8 above and must remain with the eligible Veteran or caregiver at all times when they are on the installation. Also, guests cannot make any purchases in commissary or exchange stores.
Q8. Which of the following MWR activities can be used? (This is not an exhaustive list, only the most frequently asked about activities.)
Camping: Yes. Tent sites and RV parks.
Child Care: No.
Fishing: It depends. If lakes are operated as part of the installation park and picnic areas, no. If lakes are operated as part of the installation outdoor recreation activity, then it is at the discretion of the Military Department, subject to capacity and funding conditions.
Lodging: Yes. Cabins, cottages, recreation centers, resorts, and official temporary duty and permanent change of station lodging (on a space-available basis).
Movies: Yes, if there is an admission fee. (No, if the movies are shown at no charge.)
Pools: At the discretion of the Military Department, subject to capacity and funding conditions.
Tickets: At the discretion of the Military Department, subject to capacity and funding conditions.
MAC flights: This is NOT an MWR, exchange, or commissary activity and access is NOT authorized.
Pharmacy: This is NOT an MWR, exchange, or commissary activity and access is NOT authorized.
USO: This is NOT a military organization. USO is a non-Federal entity.
Q9. What conditions are required to get access to the DoD privileges?
A9. Newly eligible Veterans must meet at least one of the following conditions:
- Purple Heart recipient
- Former prisoner of war
- Service-connected disability rating (between 0-90 percent)
Veterans with a 100 percent disability or unemployability rating and Veterans who are Medal of Honor recipients already have DoD privileges, so they are not newly eligible.
Veterans include former members of any of the uniformed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, U.S. Public Health Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
Newly eligible caregivers must be the individual assessed, approved, and designated as the Primary Family Caregiver for an eligible Veteran under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.
In addition to meeting one of the above conditions, newly eligible Veterans and caregivers must possess the specific documentation that DoD will accept as proof of identity and eligibility for access:
- Veterans must possess a Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC) that displays “PURPLE HEART,” “FORMER POW,” or “SERVICE CONNECTED” below the photo on the front of the card. If an eligible Veteran is not eligible to obtain a VHIC, the VA Health Eligibility Center Form H623A indicating placement in VA health care priority group 8E, paired with an acceptable credential, like a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or U.S. passport, will be accepted. For information on enrolling in VA health care, visit www.va.gov/healthbenefits/enroll or call 1-877-222-VETS (8387) Monday through Friday 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Eastern time.
- Caregivers must possess an eligibility letter from the VA Office of Community Care that lists them as the Primary Family Caregiver for an eligible Veteran under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, paired with an acceptable credential like a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a U.S. passport.
Q10. Can anyone with a Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC) get these privileges?
A10. No. Only Veterans with a VHIC that displays “PURPLE HEART,” “FORMER POW,” or “SERVICE CONNECTED” will be authorized the new privileges. Veterans may be able to use a VHIC that doesn’t contain one of these markings to access an installation with a medical facility if they have an appointment there, but if the VHIC does not display “PURPLE HEART,” “FORMER POW,” or “SERVICE CONNECTED,” they will not have access to commissaries, exchanges, or morale, welfare, and recreation facilities.
Learn more about the VHIC requirement and how you can get one here.
Download the Expanded Access at Commissaries, Exchanges and Recreation Facilities fact sheet here.
From health care to education, help is available to military families
Felicia Mullaney remembers trying to help the widow of a veteran who had died at a young age of cancer.
The widow was attempting to claim a state property tax break that was designed to help veterans and their survivors, but there was a problem. To qualify, she needed proof that her husband had been totally disabled, but her husband had never applied to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a total disability rating before he died.
As a result, the widow could not get the benefit.
“We’re seeing a lot of people not aware’’ of what they need to do to claim benefits, says Mullaney, deputy director of veteran benefits for Vietnam Veterans of America. “It’s a pretty common problem.’’
Jim Marszalek, national service director for Disabled American Veterans, is familiar with the problem. He says that even though the VA conducts classes for service members before they leave the military to acquaint them with benefits, many service members are focused on immediate concerns, not on benefits that might help them and their families in the future.
“When you get out, it’s stressful. You want to look for a job and move on,’’ he says.
Plus, Marszalek says, many benefits hinge on having a condition that the VA labels a disability, and “there’s a stigma associated with disability.’’
Such feelings, combined with the complicated rules involved in qualifying for benefit programs, often mean that survivors of veterans end up like the widow whom Mullaney was trying to help, missing out on benefits they deserve, experts say.
Some of the most important benefits that survivors should explore include:
Compensation for survivors
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is one of the most valuable benefits available to veterans’ survivors. People who meet the criteria for DIC can get as much as tens of thousands of dollars a year in tax-free payments.
The program provides lifetime benefits ranging from about $1,280 a month to $2,940 a month to eligible surviving spouses, depending on the deceased veteran’s pay grade. Additional payments are available for dependent children. Some parents of deceased veterans also may get benefits if their income is low.
DIC payments are not automatic, and not everyone is eligible. Survivors must apply for the benefit, and the sooner they do it, the better. If they apply more than 12 months after the service member’s death, payments are retroactive only to the date they applied, not the date the veteran died.
The program is designed to compensate survivors when service members die during their service, or as a result of a service-connected disability. It also compensates survivors in cases where veterans die from a cause unrelated to their service but were rated by the VA as being totally disabled from a service-connected disability for a certain amount of time immediately before their death.
Experts cite the program as one of the reasons veterans should apply for total disability ratings as soon as they are eligible.
“If you don’t have permanent and total, try to get it,’’ says Mullaney. “Don’t wait until you think you are dying.”
Another valuable benefit available to eligible survivors is comprehensive health coverage from the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). Under this program, the VA shares the cost of most health care services and medical supplies that it considers necessary for eligible surviving spouses and children. In most cases, eligibility for the coverage depends on the degree of a veteran’s service-connected disability.
Comprehensive health coverage is also available under the VA’s Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program to children of Vietnam veterans and certain Korean War veterans who have been diagnosed with spina bifida.
More limited health coverage is available in specific situations. For example, service members’ spouses and children who lived at Camp Lejeune between August 1953 and the end of 1987 can get reimbursement for certain out-of-pocket health care costs because of contaminated drinking water there. The benefit applies to treatment of 15 specific illnesses and medical conditions, including several forms of cancer, infertility and miscarriage.
Another targeted health benefit applies to children with certain birth defects other than spina bifida who were born to female Vietnam veterans. The Children of Women Vietnam Veterans (CWVV) Health Care Benefits Program covers services necessary for treatment of the covered birth defect and associated medical conditions.
Education and training
Substantial financial help is available for survivors of service members interested in pursuing education or vocational training. The government in some cases will pay all or a large part of tuition costs for college and other educational programs.
Two key programs that eligible surviving spouses and children should explore are the Fry Scholarship and the Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) Program.
Under the Fry program, the government pays the full cost of in-state tuition at public institutions, or more than $20,000 a year toward the cost of tuition at private institutions, as well as a monthly housing allowance, and an annual stipend for books and supplies. This scholarship, paid directly to the school, was expanded to include surviving spouses in 2014.
Eligible survivors who choose the DEA program instead of the Fry scholarship can get a monthly check sent directly to them to pay educational costs. The maximum amount for full-time students currently is about $1,200 per month.
The DEA and Fry programs can be used for college, vocational and business technical programs, apprenticeship programs, certification tests and tutoring.
Recent legislation also has made it easier for survivors to transfer benefits under the GI Bill after the death of service members.
Eligibility for educational benefits depends on factors including the circumstances of veterans’ deaths, ages of the dependents and marital status of spouses.
Surviving spouses who meet certain criteria can get a VA-guaranteed home loan to buy, build or improve a home or to refinance a mortgage.
VA loans have important advantages over other home loans. In most cases, the buyer does not have to make a down payment on the home. Home buyers using these loans also do not have to pay monthly mortgage insurance premiums.
For those who are refinancing, one option is a cash-out refinance loan, which enables homeowners to get cash from the equity in the home and use it, for example, to pay off debt, pay for education or make home improvements.
Survivors of veterans who served during wartime can apply to receive a tax-free pension, known as a Survivors Pension or Death Pension. The pension provides a monthly payment to surviving spouses with modest incomes who have not remarried. The benefit is also available to unmarried dependent children of wartime veterans.
The amount of the pension is set each year by Congress and eligibility is determined by a complex calculation that considers net worth as well as various kinds of income and expenses. What counts as income can be reduced, for example, by certain expenses, such as unreimbursed medical care. For surviving spouses without a dependent child, the maximum annual pension is currently about $9,000.
Those who are homebound or who require assistance for basic daily activities may qualify for an additional payment.
Eligible veterans and their spouses and dependents can be buried in one of the 136 national cemeteries maintained by the VA. Burial benefits for veterans in these cemeteries include opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a Government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC), at no cost to the family. Burial benefits available for spouses and dependents buried in a national cemetery include burial with the veteran, perpetual care of the gravesite, and the spouse or dependents' names and dates of birth and death inscribed on the veteran's headstone, at no cost to the family. Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried in a VA national cemetery even if the veteran is not buried there.
When veterans are buried at private cemeteries, the government provides a headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a PMC. The VA also may pay for some of the burial and funeral expenses. Many states have state veteran cemeteries, which may have residency requirements.
Veterans who receive a disability rating connected to their service can qualify for a Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI) life insurance policy, which provides up to $10,000 of coverage. Veterans who are totally disabled are eligible to have their premiums waived.
Totally disabled veterans who are approved for a premium waiver can apply for up to $30,000 in additional coverage, but premiums for the supplemental coverage cannot be waived.
Forget sharing GI Bill benefits — this state could give you and everyone in your family their own GI Bill
One of the most valuable aspects of the federal Post-9/11 GI Bill is that veterans can share the benefit with their spouses and children. But when this happens, everyone’s pulling from the same, limited 36-month pool of benefits — and likely no one will have their full four-year degree covered by the shared benefit.
Not so for qualifying veterans in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin GI Bill can provide all Wisconsin vets with extra GI Bill benefits. And for certain disabled vets, it may provide the veteran, spouse and children each with their own set of 128 credit hours of Wisconsin GI Bill benefits, which they can use at the same time as the veteran and each other. And one person in the family using their benefits doesn’t reduce anyone else’s GI Bill.
The benefit can be used at any school in the University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Technical College systems and provides qualifying veterans with 128 credit hours, or eight semesters, of free tuition and related fees for all levels of higher education.
“Most of the time when I’m talking to folks and explaining what it can pay for the, the reaction is, ‘This sounds great. Where’s the hook?’” said Joe Rasmussen, the veteran services coordinator at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Veteran Services and Military Assistance Center.
“It’s somewhat unbelievable, but it’s a really generous benefit that’s helped a lot of people,” he said.
Four University of Wisconsin system schools made Military Times’ Best for Vets Four-Year Colleges ranking in 2018 and two Wisconsin technical colleges made our Best for Vets Career and Technical Colleges ranking.
The Wisconsin GI Bill first passed in 2005. The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs determines a veteran’s eligibility, but the program itself is mostly run and paid for by the schools. A veteran can apply by first submitting a form to the Wisconsin state VA and, once they are approved for the Wisconsin GI Bill, applying directly to participating universities.
In most cases, a veteran must have exhausted his or her federal GI Bill benefits before accessing the Wisconsin GI Bill. For a veteran to qualify, he or she must have completed two years of active-duty service — or 90 days of active-duty service during war time — and must have been a Wisconsin resident for five consecutive years.
In 2017, the benefit was extended to prospective students who began their active-duty service when they were residents of states other than Wisconsin. It’s helped Wisconsin market itself as a destination for active-duty troops looking for a free higher education.
“That’s a lot of what the intent has become,” said Jackie Helgeson, veterans services manager at Western Technical College in La Crosse, Wis. “It’s the carrot they dangle. ‘Hey, come live in Wisconsin!’”
There’s no time limit on when veterans must use the Wisconsin GI Bill. They can access the benefit at any time post-separation, as long as they don’t exceed the limits of 128 credit hours or eight semesters.
And it’s worth noting that a veteran is getting eight free semesters no matter what. If they use all of their 128 credit hours in six semesters, they’ll still have two free semesters of education under the Wisconsin GI Bill.
Family members can also take advantage of the benefit, but only if the veteran has at least a 30 percent disability rating. The spouse of a dead veteran cannot be remarried, and children must be between the ages of 17 and 25 on the first day of the first semester in which the Wisconsin GI Bill is being used. They must have also lived in Wisconsin for five consecutive years, just like their veteran parent or spouse.
“The one big thing ... is the fact you can send your kids to school at a low cost,” said Donnie Placidi, the Wisconsin state VA’s administrator of veteran benefits. “There’s just so much that this Wisconsin GI Bill offers.”
Ashley Peotter joined the Air National Guard in 2014 and is now a senior airman and cardiopulmonary technician. She is currently going to UW-Madison’s medical school for free, thanks to the Wisconsin GI Bill.
She was able to access that benefit because her pulmonary training counted toward that 90 days of active-duty service requirement. The National Guard isn’t considered active duty and thus its members usually aren’t eligible for this benefit.
Poetter said she wished the Wisconsin GI Bill also paid for other education expenses like books and housing, but she’s happy with its provisions overall.
“Do it while you have the motivation and the time,” she advised her fellow veterans. “Use every program and benefit that you can, because they’re there to be used.”
Jacob Carlson has had a similar experience with the Wisconsin GI Bill. He became an Army guardsman in 2012 and is now a first-year student at Western Technical College.
“It’s really nice with the benefits it has, because you don’t have to worry about tuition at all,” he said. "It took a big rock off your shoulders. It made it easy.”
The Wisconsin VA approved 3,490 applications for Wisconsin GI Bill benefits from March 1, 2018, through Feb. 28, 2019, according to Placidi. He also said that 1,321 of them were not Wisconsin residents when they entered the military.
According to UW-Madison’s Rasmussen, 342 students at the school took advantage of Wisconsin GI Bill benefits in fiscal year 2017-18. That included 158 veterans, 174 children and 10 spouses, who saved over $3 million combined in tuition and fee remissions.
In Rasmussen’s experience, the most common reason he hears for why people enlist in the first place is to gain access to education benefits. The Wisconsin GI Bill is the fulfillment of that goal.
“For many students in higher ed, one of their main barriers is funding,” he said. “With the funding portion not as difficult ... they can fully focus on the other aspects of what it means to be a successful student.”