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Friday, November 29, 2013

How to Talk to Your Parents, Friends, In-laws, etc. about VA Benefits

How to talk to your parents,

Siblings, Friends and Neighbors about Veterans Benefits

Most of us know someone who served in the military at some point in time.  We’ve seen pictures of them in uniform posted on their walls, or we’ve heard them talk about when they were in Korea, or Viet Nam, or Fort Benning. 

Today, there is a lot of anxiety about healthcare costs, education costs, and long-term care costs.  Have you ever asked someone who served in the military whether they are receiving any benefits or have thought about receiving benefits?  Often veterans or their families will say, “When my dad came back from the war, he never wanted to talk about the war and the VA just reminded him of a really bad time in his life. “  Or, my dad visited a VA hospital and it was too confusing and overwhelming for him.  He was told he didn’t qualify for anything because he had too much money, or didn’t serve at the right time or had never been injured in service, so he just gave up.

To be frank, the VA often does a really bad job of informing veterans about what benefits they might qualify for.  The VA is especially bad in giving advice over the telephone.  Of course, as most of us know, in any business the advice you get depends on who happens to answer the telephone when you call.  What I’ve learned as an attorney is that the caller has to be responsible for asking enough questions and asking them in as many different ways as possible to get to the right answer.  Step one is often to learn the language of the institution you are calling.  When you call your doctor’s office, you try to convey your symptoms in a way that will let the office know enough about your illness or injury to let you know whether you need to rush to the emergency room, or whether your symptoms are nothing to worry about.  You know the doctor will want to know whether you have a fever, whether you are bleeding, when was the onset of the fever.  In order to get the best advice, you are responsible for using language that the doctor’s office will understand.

In order to get the best advice possible from the VA, and in order to help your family and friends get the benefits they deserve, you can learn how to talk to them about VA benefits.

First, you can ask about their service.   When I was a kid, we had a green gas mask stored in our basement storage closet.  My dad would take it out occasionally – usually when entertaining the male teachers he supervised – and tell them the story of how he was part of a unit that used chemicals to experiment on monkeys.  My father was stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds during the Korean War where they experimented with chemical weapons.  I know that my father was stationed there and that my sister was born while he was stationed there in 1953.  I also know that shortly after my sister was born, my dad must have been discharged since they moved back to South Dakota where my dad was a teacher for the next 40 years.

But, how can I prove that my dad was in the service?  First, I can ask him if he has his discharge paper.  The discharge paper is often referred to as the DD-214, for the Department of Defense form number that is used now for most discharges.  However, in WWII and the Korean War it may have been referred to as a separation paper, a Certificate of Discharge, an Enlisted Report and Record of Separation, or some similar title.

There is a lot of information on the discharge paper, and the veteran will need it or a copy to get benefits.  One question you can ask is whether the veteran has that paper or if he or she recorded the paper with the county in which he or she was living at some point after discharge.  If the veteran does not have that paper, he or she will need to get one.  You can help get the discharge paper, but you will need to know the following information:  Branch of Service, Dates of Service (approximate is okay, although the more accurate the information the better chance you’ll have of getting the document) and Social Security number.  You’ll need to know the veterans full name – make sure it is the name he or she used while in the service.  I’ve known veterans who never used the name on their birth certificate, but their military records are all under the name as on the birth certificate.  Be sure you know the spelling used on the birth certificate, too.

If you don’t have the paper, you can order it from the archives.  Here is the website:  www.archives.gov/veterans/.

There was a fire in the storage facility in St. Louis in the 1970’s where many military records were stored.  Thus, some records were destroyed.  Most can be reconstructed, but it may take a little longer to get the records if they were part of that group destroyed in the 1970’s.   You will need to have some patience.

If your parent is reluctant to find out what services are available through the VA or at the VA, ask what experiences they’ve had in the past – if any- and ask whether they would like to hear some of the benefits that are available.  If you know someone in a similar situation who is receiving benefits, you can discuss what benefits that person is receiving and maybe something about their experience with the VA.

I often talk to veterans who feel that the VA has been a lifesaver for them -especially for unemployed or self-employed veterans who may not have cheap affordable healthcare available to them in their area.   My friend swears by the care given to him at the VA.  He is a middle-aged, self-employed, Viet Nam Veteran, who needed care for a heart condition that he could not afford without health insurance.  He found that he was entitled to care at the VA, and since then he has been treated regularly at the VA.

Another client, a successful man in his 60’s, discovered that he had a form of cancer.  Since he was “in country” in Viet Nam, he is now receiving a service-connected disability payment for the cancer.  In addition, the VA is evaluating his claim for PTSD.

Many of my veteran clients now receive hearing aids and other help for hearing loss through the VA.  When they were young, they didn’t notice that their experience around noisy combat affected their hearing, but in older age, the hearing loss is apparent and the treatment for that hearing loss is their right.

I encourage my clients to enroll in the VA healthcare system by filing a form 10-10-EZ, Application for Health Benefits.  You can find that online at www.1010ez.med.va.gov/sec/fha/1010ez/.


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