Veterans, Families and Friends

Please review the detail areas below for specific questions recently asked………

VA Burial Benefits: The VA offers two different types of Burial Benefits when a Veteran passes away-

Service Connected Burial Benefit- If a Veteran passes away from a service connected condition or a presumptive condition that was not previously claimed, the VA will pay a one-time payment of $2,000.

Non-Service Connected Burial Benefit- If a Veteran is in receipt of a monetary award from the VA (VA Disability Compensation or Non-Service Connected Pension) or passes away at a VA Medical Center or VA Contract Care Facility while enrolled in VA Medical Care, the VA will pay a one-time payment of $300 and possibly reimburse the person who paid for the funeral the cost of transportation of remains from the place of death to the funeral home as long as the amount is broken out in the itemized funeral bill.

Plot Allowance- The VA will pay a $749 Plot Allowance for internment costs of the Veteran as long as the Veteran is eligible for receipt of service connected or non-service connected burial benefits. The VA will pay the $749 Plot Allowance to a State Veteran Cemetery for internment of a Veteran regardless of eligibility of the Service Connected or Non-Service Connected Benefit.

Survivor’s Benefits- There are two different Survivor Benefits that a Surviving Spouse/Child under 18 (or unmarried child enrolled in school under the age of 23)/or Adult Helpless Child of the Veteran may be eligible for:

Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC)- DIC is paid to an eligible spouse/dependent if the Veteran passed away from a service connected condition, a previously unclaimed presumptive condition, or from any condition if the Veteran was rated 100% (or Individual Unemployability) for 10 years or longer. Note- The Spouse had to be married to the Veteran for at least one year prior to the Veteran’s death and will lose the DIC award if they remarry before the age of 57. If they do remarry before age 57 and lose the DIC Award and that subsequent marriage ends in divorce or death, the Surviving Spouse may file for DIC again due to the Veteran’s passing.
- Basic DIC Rate is $1,257.95/Month
- If the Veteran was rated 100% (or I.U.) for 8+ years and married to the same spouse for at least
8 years, the Spouse will receive an additional $267.12/month
- If the Surviving Spouse is entitled to the Aid and Attendance Rate (Based upon the need of help
With activities of daily living), the spouse will receive an additional $311.64/month.

** Note- If the Veteran was a DOD Retiree and paid into the DFAS Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) (6% of the monthly retired pay which allows the Surviving Spouse to receive 55% of the Veteran’s Retired Pay at the time of their death) and also qualifies for DIC based upon a service connected cause of death, the current Federal Law does not permit payments of both SBP and DIC. The current Federal Law only allows the payment of the greater amount and possibly the SBP/DIC Offset which is currently $310/month.

Survivor’s Pension- This is the only other type of Survivor Benefit. To be eligible, the Veteran had to have wartime service, had to have at least 90 days of active duty service before 1980 or at least 2 years after 1980, been married to the surviving spouse for at least one year prior to the Veteran’s passing, and then meet the financial requirements of having less than $80k in assets (not to include the spouse’s primary residence). Assets include additional houses, excessive property, amounts in checking/savings accounts, IRAs, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, trusts, etc… If below the $80k threshold, the VA will determine the Pension Rate that the spouse would be eligible for. Once the rate is determined, the surviving spouse’s annual income- which includes all sources of income to include Social Security (which will be adjusted by subtracting recurring monthly medical costs) must be below the Maximum Annual Pension Rate for that specific level of Pension. Note- If a surviving Spouse remarries after the death of the Veteran, they will lose the Pension and can never claim it again regardless of what happens to the subsequent marriage.

- Basic Pension Rate – If the surviving spouse can live on their own and take care of themselves.

Maximum Annual Pension Rate is $8,656.00/year

- Housebound Rate- If the surviving spouse can live on their own and take care of themselves
but are indoors all day and need help to leave their residence.
Maximum Annual Pension Rate is $10,580.00/year

- Aid and Attendance Rate- If the Surviving Spouse requires assistance from someone else to
Take care of activities of daily living (Bathing, dressing, feeding, etc…) then the cost of Home
Healthcare, Assisted Living or Skilled Nursing can be counted as recurring monthly medical
Expenses. This is the only level that these costs will be counted as medical expenses.
Maximum Annual Pension Rate is $13,836.00/year

The VA will never pay above the Maximum Annual Pension Rate for the level that they qualify for. For example, if a spouse is entitled to pension at the A&A Rate and the cost of assisted living is more than his/her income, the VA will pay $13,836.00/year or $1,153.00/month.
Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Presumptive Conditions- On January 13, 2017, the VA published a Final Rule in the Federal Register establishing presumptive service connection for eight medical conditions for any veterans, reservists and Guard members who served at Camp LeJeune, N.C. (including Marine Corps Air Station New River, Camp Geiger, Camp Johnson and Stone Bay Rifle Range) for 30 or more days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987. This presumptive service connection is based on exposure to toxic chemicals present in the water on base during that time period.
The medical conditions are:
• adult leukemia,
• aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes,
• bladder cancer,
• kidney cancer,
• liver cancer,
• multiple myeloma,
• Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and
• Parkinson’s disease.
These conditions were selected as a result of review of scientific studies on the chemicals that were known to have contaminated the water at Camp LeJeune.

Other medical conditions arising in veterans exposed to the contaminated water may be service connected on a direct basis, but veterans will need a medical opinion linking their current condition to their exposures at Camp LeJeune. There are fourteen conditions approved for healthcare treatment purposes (38 CFR 17.400), but only the conditions listed above are for presumptive compensation purposes. The effective date of the regulation will be March 14, 2017, so compensation and DIC may be able to be paid beginning on that date. Earlier claims that were denied must be re-opened in order to be considered under the new presumptive regulation. Dependents and civilians who lived or worked at Camp LeJeune are NOT entitled to any compensation for disabilities arising from toxic exposure at this time.

If a Veteran has passed away from one of these listed conditions regardless of how long ago the death occurred, have the surviving spouse submit a DIC Claim.
President’s Proposed Budget as it pertains to Individual Unemployability- My office has been fielding many phone calls concerning the President’s Proposed Budget which included a recommendation that Veterans receiving Individual Unemployability Benefits (Veterans who are rated 60-90% Rating service connected but being paid at the 100% rate because they cannot maintain gainful employment due to service connected disabilities) would have their benefit end when they begin receiving Social Security Retirement age- at which time they would lose the 100% rate and revert back to their actual disability rating vice the 100% rate and the savings would then be used to fund an expanded Choice Program. This was only a proposal and since the release of that proposal, VA Secretary Shulkin provided testimony on June 14, 2017 which said “The budget is a process, and this was part of a menu of opportunities that we had for thinking how we can make the budget process better. As I began to listen to veterans and their concerns and VSOs, in particular, it became clear that this would be hurting some veterans and that this would be a takeaway for veterans who can’t afford to have those benefits taken away. And I’m really concerned about that. So what I’d like to say is — is that this is part of a process. We have to be looking at ways to do things better but I am not going to support policies that hurt veterans. And so I would look forward to working with you and all the members of the Committee on figuring out how we can do this better. We have budget numbers and targets that we have to hit, but we shouldn’t be doing things that are going to be hurting veterans that can’t afford to lose these benefits.”

Secretary of the VA announced his intention to expand provisions for urgent mental health care needs to former service members with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges. This move marks the first time a VA Secretary has implemented an initiative specifically focused on expanding access to assist former OTH service members who are in mental health distress and may be at risk for suicide or other adverse behaviors. This does not mean that Veterans with OTH discharges (or lower) would be permitted to have service connected disabilities if they were previously barred from benefits from the VA but does allow for up to 90 days of emergent mental health treatment at a VA Medical Center.
Possible additional Presumptive Conditions for Exposure to Herbicides/Agent Orange- Later this fall, the Secretary of the VA is going to decide whether additional medical conditions should be added to the list of presumptive conditions due to exposure of Agent Orange/Herbicides from Vietnam. Those conditions are Hypothyroidism, Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) and Parkinson-Like symptoms. The Current Presumptive Conditions for Agent Orange/Herbicide Exposures include: Prostate Cancer, Type II Diabetes, Ischemic Heart Disease/Coronary Artery Disease, Lung Cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, Non-Hodgkins Lymphona, Hodgkin’s Disease, Chloracne, AL Amyloidosis, All Chronic B-Cell Leukemias, and Multiple Myeloma (not an all-inclusive list).

Again, if a Veteran served in Vietnam and passed away from one of these conditions, the surviving spouse should file a DIC Claim.

Gulf War Presumptive Period Extended for Five Years- Under 38 CFR 3.317, presumptive service connection for disabilities arising from Gulf War Service requires that a Veteran develop the disability within a certain timeframe after his/her service. This “sunset date” was previously December 21, 2016 but the VA has recently published an interim final rule that extends the period to December 31, 2021. These conditions are presumptive to any Veteran who served in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations (not to include Afghanistan) from August 1991 through current day. The Presumptive conditions for Southwest Asia Include Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Undiagnosed Illnesses of Southwest Asia (multi clusters of symptoms without a definitive diagnosis).

Note- The VA still has not conceded any presumptive conditions associated with exposures to Burn Pits.

Decision Ready Claims- In an effort to speed up the processing time for VA Disability Claims and certain types of Survivor Benefits, the VA is working towards Decision Ready Claims. Similar to Fully Developed Claims where all private treatment records are submitted with all of the required claims forms, the Decision Ready Claims will also require a completed Disability Benefit Questionnaire (DBQ) for the condition being claimed to be submitted with the claim. There are many different DBQs available for each of the claimed conditions which can be found by searching for forms on the VA.govwebsite or, if a Veteran Service Officer has access to VetraSpec, there is a link for the DBQs on the “Forms” tab. We have been told that if a Veteran requests that a DBQ be completed by their VA Medical Center Primary Care Provider, they will do so. If the correct DBQ is completed with all of the completed forms, the VA’s goal is to have claims for increase and Dependency Indemnity Compensation Claims completed in 30 days or less. Please note that you cannot find the DBQ for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as those exams must be completed by a VA Psychiatrist or Psychologist or a VA-Contract Provider through one of the VA Contracted Providers.

VA Dental Insurance Program- While the VA signed the VA Dental Insurance Reauthorization Act into law allowing the current VA Dental Insurance Pilot Program (VADIP) to move forward as a permanent benefit, the program is not accepting new patients while the VA determines who will proceed with the contract to manage the program. Once the new contract for managing the program has been awarded, all Veterans enrolled in VA Medical Care are eligible to enroll in this program and if they are rated 100% Permanent and Total with Chapter 35 Ancillary Benefits, then their VA approved dependents are also eligible for enrollment. The Undersecretary of the VA for Healthcare has stated that a contract will be awarded by the end of September 2017 and Veteran can begin enrolling by the end of November. If Veterans are interested in the status of the status of the contract process and when the VA Dental Insurance Program will again start accepting new clients, information can be found at the VA’s website: https://www.va.gov/HEALTHBENEFITS/vadip/index.asp
Appeals Modernization Act has been approved by the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Once signed into Law and fully implemented, this will allow a Veteran one of three different lanes in order to have their appeal heard. Lane 1 will allow the Veteran to have his rating decision reviewed by a higher level rater at the VA Regional Office with no additional evince to be submitted. Lane 2 will allow the Veteran up to one year to submit new evidence to support the claim for a new decision to be made. Lane 3 will allow the Veteran to submit the claim to the Board of Veterans Appeals for the BVA Law Judge to render a decision within one year. The biggest hold-up is what to do with the approximately 490k legacy appeals that are currently pending which will not be covered by the Appeals Modernization Act unless approval is granted to allow legacy appeals to be moved into the new appeals system.
Dispelling Rumors about Concurrent Receipt- Rumors have circulated around the veteran community recently about a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report regarding potential savings in the federal budget published in December 2016. Since 1982, the CBO has prepared an annual report to Congress of various options for reducing the federal deficit, either by reducing spending or increasing revenue. 115 options were presented across all agencies in the last report. Many of these options presented by CBO are controversial. Concerns arose over the option presented in the CBO report of eliminating concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA compensation. While it is good to remain vigilant about continuing to ensure veterans and their families receive needed benefits, please note: There are no current plans anywhere in Congress to eliminate concurrent receipt. In fact, there is legislation pending to extend concurrent receipt to retirees with a less than 50% disability rating. Currently, If a Veteran is a 20+ year Retiree and is rated 40% disabled, the Veteran’s Retired pay from DFAS is reduced by the amount paid by the VA. In essence, the Veteran receives the same amount of pay but the portion paid by the VA is tax-exempt.

CRDP- is the Concurrent Receipt paid to a 20+ year Retiree (Reserve or Active Duty) that is rated 50% or higher by the VA. Nothing has to be done on the part of the Veteran that falls into this category unless they are a Retired Reservist as they do not begin receiving retired pay until age 60 (at that time they would inform the VA that they are now receiving Retirement Pay and that they are 50% or higher from the VA).

CRSC (Combat Related Special Compensation)- If a Veteran is medically retired from the Military, concurrent receipt is not automatic. They have to complete an application which will be sent to the Military Service Branch which requests Concurrent Receipt for specific VA service connected conditions that were incurred in combat, training for combat, instrument of war or simulated war. The application must include VA Rating Decisions, medical treatment records, proof of combat injuries, etc…

Education Benefits/Characterization of Discharge- In order for a Veteran to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill or Montgomery GI Bill, they must have an Honorable Discharge. A General Under Honorable Conditions (or less) disqualifies a Veteran from VA Education Benefits under Post 9/11 or Montgomery GI Bills.

The Department of Defense has announced a renewed effort to ensure veterans are aware of the opportunity to have their discharges and military records reviewed. Through enhanced public outreach, engagement with Veterans Service Organizations, Military Service Organizations, and other outside groups, as well as direct outreach to individual veterans, DoD is encouraging all veterans who believe they have experienced an error or injustice to request relief from their service’s Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR) or Discharge Review Board (DRB). All veterans who desire a correction to their service record or who believe their discharge was unjust, erroneous, or warrants an upgrade, are encouraged to apply for review. Some key information to include in requests for discharge upgrades include: 1) It is very important to explain why the veteran’s discharge or other record was unjust or erroneous – for example, how it is connected to, or resulted from unjust policies, a physical or mental health condition related to military service, or some other explainable or justifiable circumstance.
2) It is important to provide support, where applicable, for key facts. For example, if a veteran has a relevant medical diagnosis, it would be very helpful to include medical records that reflect that diagnosis.
3) It is helpful, but not always required, to submit copies of the veteran’s applicable service records. The more information provided, the better the boards can understand the circumstances of the discharge.
Discharge upgrades can also be granted on the basis of clemency. Veterans who believe their post-service conduct and contributions to society support an upgrade or correction should describe their post-service activity and provide any appropriate letters or other documentation of support.

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