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Frequently Asked Questions about Veterans’ Benefits

Q: How do we take care of our military veterans and their families?

A: The federal United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has the main responsibility for the care of our veterans and their families, as well as their survivors. The VA provides a wide variety of monetary and other benefits including disability benefits and pensions, burial and cemetery services, vocational and small business services, medical and dental care, nursing home services, mental health, and substance-abuse treatment, education benefits, home-loan guaranties and other types of benefits and services. Additional state-financed benefits and services may be available through state veterans’ affairs agencies.

Q: Stories have surfaced in the media about delays in obtaining VA benefits and services, as well as inadequate VA medical facilities and care.

A: Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, overwhelming issues have developed in the delivery of VA benefits and services. News accounts are common of substandard medical care in VA facilities, intolerable delays in processing benefit applications, long waits for medical appointments and treatment, inadequate mental-health care and other grim problems. Late in 2007, Congress passed and the president signed an appropriations bill providing even more VA funding than the president had requested. The newly appropriated money will increase medical, mental-health and substance-abuse treatment; decrease veterans’ claim backlogs by hiring more case workers; improve VA infrastructure; and help homeless veterans, among other things.

Q: Why is the care of today’s veterans especially challenging?

A: At least one-third of the veterans of the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan return with mental disabilities, most notably post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)traumatic brain injury (TBI) and substance abuse. Improved battlefield medical care saves more lives, so more severely injured soldiers survive to face life with TBIs. Looking for causes of increased PTSD, substance abuse, anxiety and depression, some observers point to the heightened strain of longer and repeated deployments, as well as to less time off between front-line assignments to recover from battle stress. Desperately needed mental-health treatment is not available at all facilities in the VA health-care system; waiting lists for VA mental-health care are too long; needed follow-up is missing; and more medical staff qualified to treat these newly emerging rates of mental-health problems must be hired.

Q: What about the high numbers of homeless veterans?

A: Homelessness has been an all-too-common condition of the veteran returning from war for time eternal, except perhaps after World War II when the GI Bill provided a relative safety net. Today, approximately 41,000 US veterans may be homeless at any given time, and many more are at risk. One study asserts that 25 percent of all homeless people in the US are veterans. The VA has outreach programs for homeless veterans, many of whom could benefit from VA services such as medical care, mental-health and substance-abuse counseling, housing benefits, and disability benefits. Still, about 40 percent of homeless veterans do not receive the assistance they need.

Q: Why is it so difficult for veterans to get VA benefits in a timely fashion?

A: It currently takes on average about six months or more for a veteran filing for disability benefits to receive a decision on his or her claim from the VA. If the disability benefits are denied and the decision is appealed, the average wait jumps to about two years. The VA does not have enough money or staff to adequately and promptly process the benefit applications of recently returning veterans while continuing to provide ongoing services to generations of veterans from previous decades.

Q: How do I apply for veterans’ benefits?

A: Usually to receive health-care benefits the beneficiary should apply for enrollment on VA Form 10-10EZ. The form is available on the VA website, at VA medical facilities and regional benefits offices, or by calling 1-877-222-VETS (1-877-222-8387). Insurance, compensation, education, vocational rehabilitation, and pension benefits can also be applied for on the VA website. Some applications can be printed from the VA Web site and mailed. If you prefer to go into a VA office or have other questions about enrollment, call 1-800-827-1000 for questions about compensation, pension, or vocational rehabilitation; 1-888-GI-BILL-1 (1-888-442-4551) for questions about education; or 1-800-829-4833 for the TDD line for people with hearing impairments.

Q: Can I get an attorney or another person to help me with my VA claim?

A: Although attorneys’ fees may sometimes be allowed for preliminary legal advice about whether to apply for VA benefits, by law no attorney’s fees may be charged for assistance with the initial application itself. Although some attorneys will assist with the initial application process for free, most claimants are represented by veterans’ service organizations (VSOs) at the initial application stage. Note: the attorney fee restrictions may be different for home-loan guaranty applications.

Q: What about legal assistance with an appeal?

A: Once a claimant files a notice of disagreement in response to a VA initial notice of decision (NOD) denying benefits, it becomes legal for attorneys to charge fees for representation on subsequent appeals to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) or the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims (CAVC). Generally, the fee agreement must be on file and the fee must be reasonable, usually defined as not more than 20 percent of the past-due benefits finally awarded. Usually legal fees can be paid out of past-due benefit awards, but sometimes fees may be paid by the government under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) when the VA’s denial of benefits was not substantially justifiable.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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