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VA resumes normal operations as government shutdown ends

SUN Columnist

Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs are working to resume normal operations as quickly as possible.  Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) regional offices have re-opened their doors and resumed public contact services for veterans.

“With the shutdown over, we are all very grateful that the Nov. 1 benefit checks will go out to approximately 5 million veterans and other beneficiaries as scheduled,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We at VA are working quickly to resume normal operations in order to fulfill our solemn obligation — to ensure that veterans receive the benefits and services they have earned through their service.  I want to thank all of our VA employees for their dedication and resolve during this difficult period.”

During the government shutdown, VA medical centers, clinics and other health services remained open.  Due to the shutdown, VA claims processors were unable to continue working 20 hours of overtime per month to reduce the backlog of claims, overtime that has helped VA significantly reduce the disability claims backlog by more than 190,000 claims over the last six months.  Mandatory overtime will resume immediately and will continue as planned through Nov. 16, at a minimum.

“In the coming weeks and months, we will fight hard to regain ground lost as a result of the government shutdown,” said Shinseki.  “We remain committed to eliminating the disability claims backlog in 2015.”

Know your benefits

VA operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system, with more than 1,500 sites of care, including hospitals, community clinics, community living centers, domiciliaries, readjustment counseling centers, and various other facilities. For additional information on VA health care, visit: www.va.gov/health.

The enrollment of a veteran in the VA Health Care System satisfies the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Basic eligibility

A person who served in the active military, naval or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable may qualify for VA health care benefits. Reservists and National Guard members may also qualify for VA health care benefits if they were called to active duty (other than for training only) by a Federal order and completed the full period for which they were called or ordered to active duty.

Minimum duty requirements: Veterans who enlisted after Sept. 7, 1980, or who entered active duty after Oct. 16, 1981, must have served 24 continuous months or the full period for which they were called to active duty in order to be eligible. This minimum duty requirement may not apply to veterans discharged for hardship, early out or a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.

Enrollment

For most veterans, entry into the VA health care system begins by applying for enrollment completing a (VA Form 1010EZ), at your local Veterans Services Office, or at any VA health care facility or VA regional benefits office. Once enrolled, veterans can receive health care at VA health care facilities anywhere in the country. Veterans enrolled in the VA health care system are afforded privacy rights under federal law.

Disability compensation

Disability compensation is a monetary benefit paid to veterans who are disabled by an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service. These disabilities are considered to be service connected. For additional details on types of disability claims and how to apply, go to http://benefits.va.gov/benefits/, or contact your local Veterans Service Office for more information.

Monthly disability compensation varies with the degree of disability and the number of eligible dependents. Veterans with certain severe disabilities may be eligible for additional special monthly compensation (SMC). Disability compensation benefits are not subject to federal or state income tax.

The payment of military retirement pay, disability severance pay and separation incentive payments, known as Special Separation Benefit (SSB) and Voluntary Separation Incentive (VSI), may affect the amount of VA compensation paid to disabled veterans. To be eligible for compensation, the veteran must have been separated or discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

Eligibility for veterans pension

Low-income wartime veterans may qualify for pension if they meet certain service, income and net worth limits set by law; are age 65 or older, permanently and totally disabled, a patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, or receiving Supplemental Security Income. Generally, a veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty service, with at least one day during a VA recognized wartime period. The 90-day active service requirement does not apply to veterans discharged from the military due to a service-connected disability. (Veterans may have to meet longer minimum periods of active duty if they entered active duty on or after Sept. 8, 1980, or, if they were officers who entered active duty on or after Oct. 16, 1981.) The veteran’s discharge must have been under conditions other than dishonorable and the disability must be for reasons other than the veteran’s own willful misconduct.

Payments are made to bring the veteran’s total income, including other retirement or Social Security income, to a level set by Congress. Unreimbursed medical expenses may reduce countable income for VA purposes.

Protected Pension: Pension beneficiaries, who were receiving a VA pension on Dec. 31, 1978, and do not wish to elect the Improved Pension, will continue to receive the pension rate received on that date. This rate generally continues as long as the beneficiary’s income remains within established limits, or net worth does not bar payment, and the beneficiary does not lose any dependents.

Beneficiaries must continue to meet basic eligibility factors, such as permanent and total disability for veterans. VA must adjust rates for other reasons, such as a Veteran’s hospitalization in a VA facility.

Your Veterans Service officer

The Veterans Service Officer acts on behalf of veterans, families of veterans, or other designated persons for a veteran’s interests, to assist with information and applications for the Department of Veteran Affairs benefits and services, which include the Department of Defense.

This local office assists with all veteran-related matters in the community, including citizens interested in veteran information and assistance ,ensuring privacy of personal information.

This includes assisting in determining the best course of action to maximize any and all VA benefits to which a veteran, or veteran-related person, may be entitled.

The Veterans Service Officer determines appropriate application processes for VA benefits and claims, assists in the completion of applications and forms to apply for such benefits, including medical, military service and other information that is required.

This office further assists veterans with VA Health Care questions or claims, and provides general information that affects the local veteran population.

Further information

For further Information on VA benefits, please call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office, located at the Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Blvd.

I will be out of the office on the following days for regular scheduled meetings:

• Vets4Vets: Tuesday mornings, 0900-1200.

• Arboles Community Center, first and third Thursdays. Back around 1400.

• Pagosa Outreach Connection, 0830 to 1000 every Thursday.

The office number is 264-4013, fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-3590, and e-mail is raytaylor@archuletacounty.org. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for completing applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to, and a copy for filing in the Archuleta County VSO office. If the office is closed, I am out assisting veterans, leave me a message and phone number to contact you.

This story was posted on October 24, 2013.