Friday, February 21Fellow veterans,
I am in the office until 1600 today and unlike Wednesday, where I had appointments all day, today is wide open, so there should be no trouble handling any walk-ins, unless you all decide to come visit at once.
As always, I am here to talk about your benefits and to help you deal with the VA.
Have a good day,
Benefit Spotlight: When The VA Wants To Reduce Your Benefit
It surprises some to find out the VA will, from time to time, reduce a veteran's benefit, especially those who get a letter advising them of this. This happens when the VA feels you have recovered from a disability, either completely or enough to warrant a reduction in benefits.
If you get a letter like this, don't panic. Come see me. First, the VA does not unilaterally reduce ratings or payments, they merely advise you in the initial letter that they are proposing to do this and you will have the opportunity to provide evidence that your rating should not be decreased.
Don't dawdle, though, you generally have 30 days to request a hearing and 60 days to submit evidence.
Benefit Spotlight: County Property Tax Exemption
Under certain circumstances, a disabled veteran, or their surviving spouse, is eligible for a property tax exemption. There are three requirements:
1. Must have active duty service;
2. Must be honorably discharged;
3. Must have 100% permanent and total disability rating from the VA. Lower ratings and employability awards do not qualify.
Those who qualify are eligible for a 50% exemption on the first $200,000 value of their home and there are ownership and occupancy requirements.
Click here for more details.
A Veteran's Scholarship Opportunity
Fellow veterans, Colorado Technical University is offering a full tuition scholarship for any of their degree programs. Applications will be taken from Feb 1 through Jun 30 and the 50 recipients will be announced on Veterans Day for classes that begin in Feb 2021.
You can study online or at their Aurora or Colorado Springs campuses.
Current service members and honorably discharged veterans with a service connected disability are eligible, as are their spouses and unmarried children or a caregiver of a service member or veteran with a service connected disability and the scholarship is for as long as it takes to complete your degree.
It's a heck of an opportunity, so please, click here for more details.
Benefit Spotlight: Burial Benefits
Though it's something us humans generally try not to talk about, death happens and the VA has a variety of burial benefits for widows and families.
The VA will provide a flag ceremony at the funeral, plus a flag and a headstone. The headstones take a couple-three months to deliver and require prior arrangements with the cemetery. The VA can also provide a bronze plaque or a medallion for attachment to a private headstone.
We are also eligible for burial in national and state veteran's cemeteries and if the death was due to a service connected disability, the VA will reimburse a modest portion of a families burial expenses.
From dealing with widows in these circumstances, I know that few veterans talk this over with their spouses beforehand and it's a good idea if you do. I'm here to help with this process, so do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.
Your DD-214, as it says on the top of most of them, is an important document, and it's important to safeguard it. Not only is it important to you, it's important to our families once we die so they can claim burial and other benefits. Good places to keep them include a safe deposit box at your bank or in a secure place at home, like a lock box or a safe.
If you do not have your DD-214 come see me. I can order one for you. They usually take about six weeks to arrive.
BENEFIT SPOTLIGHT: VA Home Loan Guarantee
Our home loan guarantee is one of our most practical benefits, enabling veterans who might not otherwise be able to do so to buy a house.
Generally, everyone who served since the start of World War II and who received something other than a dishonorable discharge are eligible. If you served 90 consecutive days during War II, Korea, Vietnam or the Persian Gulf War you're eligible and if you served during peacetime you generally need 181 days of continuous active duty. Certain reservists and National Guard members are eligible, too.
Now, it's important to note the VA does not actually loan the money, it merely guarantees a portion of the loan, but most lenders will accept this in lieu of a down payment. Under certain circumstances, surviving spouses are eligible, too.
You'll need the certificate of eligibility you were issued at your discharge, though if you don't have it your lender can probably get it for you and, of course, the veteran must otherwise qualify for the loan. Feel free to stop by if you have any questions about this and your lender can probably answer any question you have, too.
BENEFIT SPOTLIGHT: VA Medical Care
A common misconception is that VA medical care is only available to those who have a service-connected disability. This is false. VA medical care is available to all honorably-discharged veterans. You have to sign up for it, though; you simply can't show up at a VA facility and get an appointment.
It's a useful benefit. Younger vets find it useful because kids today tend to change jobs with more frequency than generations past. Older vets like it because it can be used in conjunction with both their private insurance and MediCare. It's not an all-or-nothing-benefit, you can feel free to choose the option that gives you the greatest advantage. I know some veterans appreciate the generally lower co-pays for their prescriptions they get through the VA.
Once you are signed up you are assigned a priority group based on your income (and if you make a lot of money the VA might say no to your application) and you have to go to Grand Junction - or whichever VA medical center you choose - for your first physical but after that you can go to the teleclinic in Craig. Visits to civilian doctors in the area are authorized, too. The VA has been doing my medical care for years and I'm very pleased with it.
Something we run into from time to time is a veteran saying they don't want to waste the VA's money or take a benefit away from someone else. Nonsense. We've earned our benefits and we should take advantage of them.
You can apply for VA medical by clicking here or, better yet, come in and let me take care of it for you. It's much easier. Bring your DD-214 with you.
BENEFIT SPOTLIGHT: Your County Veteran Service Officer (VSO)
If you have never dealt with the VA before and need to, it can seem like a daunting task. The VA, of course, is a government agency and there are no shortage of forms to fill out and rules and regulations to follow.
Now, some people have knack for stuff like this and can deal with the VA on their own. Both the state and our county commissioners realize not everyone has this knack, though, so they provide a VSO and it is important to note this service is free of charge to you. This is a small county, so my job is part-time. I'm paid to be in the office 20 hours a week. (See office hours located in far right column.) Some counties in the state, though, have one, or multiple, full-time VSOs and some of these have assistants and there are state VSOs, too.
What We Can Do: We can help you file claims and appeals with the VA and this service is not only for veterans, but for their widows and other dependents as well. We can fill out your paperwork for your and send it in. More than one veteran has closed the door and talked about their service, though I am hardly a therapist, though I do know how to listen.
We can also talk about your benefits. We've earned no small amount of them and it's difficult to know all of them. I also spend no small amount of time helping vets understand their VA correspondence.
What We Can't Do: We can't make a claim magically appear when there isn't sufficient grounds. We can't make decisions on whether or not to file a claim or an appeal; those decisions are yours though, of course, we can provide advice. We're not lawyers and cannot provide legal advice.
Ideally vets call ahead and make an appointment. This benefits you because it guarantees your time with me. It's rare, but every now and then I have to tell a vet to come back later. Also, calling ahead ensures I can tell you everything you will need to bring. Nothing is worse than showing up when I am free, but not having your DD-214 or letter of decision or something else that is necessary.
Your Military Awards
Recently I've had a couple of veterans come in looking to get the ribbons and medals they earned in service to our country.
Now, the awards you earned on your DD-214, however both times the veteran said they could have sworn they had earned others. This could be true. DD-214's are produced by humans and humans make mistakes. In both cases, we filled out form SF-180 requesting the veteran's service record, which would have every award earned. I can fill out the form and send in to the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis for you and usually they respond within a couple of months, though sometimes it's much sooner than that.
Once you've determined which awards you are entitled to, replacements can be ordered at a variety of places online, or if you have base access, at an appropriate military base.
As they usually are, the TSA is looking for help at the Hayden Airport, for both agents and supervisors. You have to go to Denver to take a test and more information can be found here.
Two Types of Claims: Be Prepared
There are two types of claims: a standard claim and a fully developed claim. A standard claim is one where the VA has to searching for something, like a DD-214 or medical records.
A fully developed claim is one where we send everything in the VA will need to make decision. Of course, fully developed claims are settled faster.
So don't be surprised if I ask you to bring a lot of things to our meeting or, if you walked in, you have to come back with things. It helps to be as prepared as possible when dealing with the VA.
Veterans Assistance Fund (VAF)The VAF has gotten some use recently. First. we helped a vet out paying his rent and then we bought a bus ticket to a vet getting out of the county jail. He wasn't from here and needed to get back home.
Originally he asked for a ride, but I was unable to provide that, and a bus ticket provides the same benefit. What's funny is it is not easy to get in contact with someone in the county jail. He said a deputy would give him a message, but he was wrong about that and my only options were a video visit - at times I could not make - or writing him a letter.
I am not making that up. It's the second decade of the 21st-century and I'm writing a letter. He received it, of course, and called and left me a message that cost me $6.95 to retrieve. Anyway, he was released on schedule and the bus ticket was delivered.
The VAF is here to help with stuff like that: rent, car repairs for a vehicle needed for work, home modifications for service-connected disabilities, things of that nature.
Financial Assistance For Veterans
Please don't forget about our Veteran Assistance Fund. It is here to help veterans in need in a variety of circumstances. For example, our most recent use is paying a veteran's VA co-pay for his medication. It can also be used for renovations for your home to accommodate your disability or if a veteran is in danger of becoming homeless or otherwise needs help to provide for him/herself or their family.
Note: this is not a county program and is not directly connected to this office, I merely am the contact person for the American Legion and the Lions Club.
Please, contact me for more information. There is help out there for our fellow veterans who need it.
Transportation and Mileage Reimbursement
Transportation: If you need transportation to a VA medical appointment, anywhere in the state, we can usually arrange for a driver. Call me as soon as you have an appointment to make arrangements. We have a variety of volunteers and it is rare when we can't find someone. The appointment can be with either the VA or a civilian doctor, as long as the appointment was made by the VA.
If Someone Drives You: If you have your own driver, we will pay your driver a $51 stipend plus gas reimbursement. Please let me know in advance and, of course, there is a form to fill out.
If You Drive Yourself: We will reimburse your gas purchases. First, fill up when you get to your appointment, then fill up when you get back to town. I cannot emphasize this enough, friends. This program is funded through a state grant and the requirements are pretty specific. All fill-ups must be on the same day as your appointment, too.
Note: financial hardship is not required for either transportation or gas reimbursement. It is open to all veterans traveling for VA medical appointments, whether they're at the VA or at a private physician. American Legion or VFW membership is not required, either.
I received a phone call from a veteran who had come here from out of town and has been unable to secure a place to stay.
Unfortunately, there is not any transitional housing here in town. However, there is a program sponsored by Volunteers of America to get veterans and their families into housing. So if you or someone you know does not have a permanent home, or is living in a vehicle or is camping out or in danger of being evicted, Volunteers of America has help.
The office is in Denver, but you do not to go to Denver to take advantage of it, they will work with you wherever you happen to be. Call them at 720/300-3704
Medical Provider Update
One of the challenges of living up here, a challenge found in all rural areas, is finding civilian medical providers that are approved to provide care to vets. The latest provider to be approved by the VA is Mr Tim Trumble, an acupuncturist and Oriental medicine practitioner in Steamboat. He is a Diplomate of Oriental Medicine and has been practicing in town since 2004. His office is at 419 Oak St, his number is 819-0569 and you can visit his website here.
Now, it is important to note that as with any medical provider, you simply cannot receive treatment and send the bill to the VA. They won't pay it. You must have a referral from the VA, and Mr Trumble is the latest VA-approved provider in the area.
Free Dental Care for VeteransSteamboat Springs dentist Dr Jim McCreight is providing free, need-based dental care to Routt County veterans. Dr McCreight, himself a veteran of the US Navy, will provide these services with his wife Wendy, also a dentist, in their Steamboat office.
The service is for veterans who do not have health insurance or the resources to pay cash for their dental care. Services are provided on Fridays, an appointment is required and you may call the office directly at 879-4703.
MISSION Act Update (6/21)
The MISSION Act was rolled earlier this month and so far I haven't read about any major glitches. it's designed to give us vets the care we need when and where we need it and should be a marked improvement for us.
The two biggest provisions involve making it easier for us to get care from civilian providers, important up here in remote areas, and there is also a new urgent care benefit.
Here are the qualifications for both:
The VA is making it easier to get see local, civilian doctors. To take advantage of this the veteran must:
- be enrolled in VA health care, or have disability rating that does not require enrollment
- have a referral from the VA. We can't simply make an appointment and tell them to bill the VA
- The doctor must be enrolled with the VA
The Community Care program will expedite veterans getting care when the VA is unable to provide a service or when, like most reading this, we live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital. Utilizing Community Care is not mandatory and vets who prefer their own VA doctor can still use them, but this will be an excellent way for vets in rural areas like Routt County to get care in a more timely and efficient manner.
Urgent Care Benefit
Included in the MISSION Act is a benefit allowing us to use urgent care facilities.
Here are the requirements:
- Not only must you be enrolled in VA healthcare, but you must have used the benefit within the past two years.
- Eligibility will be verified before treatment is given. The facility will know how to do this.
- The urgent care facility must be signed up with the VA. Right now there aren't any local facilities signed up, but we expect that to change. Click here to find eligible facilities.
- The veteran must receive covered services. Because people's medical needs are different, the VA is not detailing specific services that are and are not covered, except to say preventive and dental services are excluded, as is treatment of chronic conditions.
Usually a copay is involved, generally about $30, and the VA will bill you for it. You do not pay anything at the facility. The benefit can be used any number of times.
A big part of the MISSION Act, like anything concerning you and the VA, is knowledge, and a really useful brochure on the MISSION Act can be read by clicking here. You can print a copy of it, of course, though if you stop by the office I'd be happy to print one for you. As always, if you have any questions, call or stop in.
Welcome to the VA Brochure (6/12)
Friends, the VA has a pretty useful brochure available on getting started with them. You can download it by clicking here. It's a PDF and, of course, you can print it out.
I would be happy to print one out for you, though. Stop by anytime. It won't take a minute.
The Smoking Lamp Is Out (6/12)Smoking lamp is a phrase old sailors will recognize. If it was lighted, you could smoke, it it was out, you couldn't. And even if it was lighted, sometimes you to ask permission from a senior watch stander and if the compartment was rigged for black or red you had to say "bright light, watch your eyes" before you lit up.
Beginning later this year, the smoking lamp will be out at all VA medical facilities. Gone will be the designated smoking areas. The start date was not immediately clear, tho the VA hopes to have it fully implemented by October.
If you are a vet looking to quit smoking, click here for some VA resources.
VA Medical Care For Veterans Without A Service-Connected Disability
Some are surprised to learn the VA also provides medical care to vets without a disability rating. It is not free and costs, very reasonable, depend on your income level.
It's useful because there are no monthly premiums and it's there even if you change jobs or relocate. I use it and am pleased with it.
Of course, there is a form to fill out and approval is not instantaneous and it will require a trip to Grand Junction for your initial physical. After that, service are provided at the teleclinic in Craig.
Click here for information and to apply.
Lifetime National Park Access For Service Connected Rated Vets
Veterans with a service connected rating of at least 10% are eligible for free Lifetime National Parks Access Pass.
The pass is good for the vet and three others in the vet's vehicle and the vet and three adults where per-person fees are charged. It is not good for multiple vehicles in a vet's party.
There are two ways to get your lifetime pass:
1) In person at a national park. You will need an ID, of course, and documentation of disability rating, such as a VA awards letter or a VA ID card that notes your disability or something similar. A receipt showing your Social Security disability award is good, too. Your pass will be issued immediately.
2) Apply by mail. It takes a couple of months and costs $10, so it's more convenient to do it when you arrive at the national park, but if you want to apply by mail, click here.
This isn't too bad a benefit, so don't be shy about taking advantage of it.
Benefit Spotlight: Our Burial Benefits (5/17)The VA provides a variety of benefits for us and our families after we've died. There are certain active duty service requirements - generally 24 months - and eligibility requires something other than a dishonorable discharge.
Benefits include burial or internment at a VA cemetery and includes a headstone or marker, burial flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate, all at no charge to a veteran's family. Certain family members are also authorized to be buried at a national cemetery, as well. The VA also provides a flat-rate burial allowance under certain circumstances. Reservists are eligible under certain circumstances, too, though they generally had to have died on active duty or have to be receiving, or would would have been entitled to receive at age 60, retirement pay.
An exception to this is burial at Arlington National Cemetery, which is generally reserved for those killed in the line of duty and those who won the Purple Heart or another medal for valor.
More details can be found by clicking here.
Something To Know: Requesting Records From VA (5/15)
If all you need to do is request records from the VA, like your DD-214, click here. It's a VA website that makes the process rather easy.
Of course, if you'd rather have me help you do it, that's why I'm here. Please call for an appointment, or stop by. - gk
Something To Know: The Veteran's Crisis Line (5/10)
If you are in crisis and are having thoughts of suicide there is help available, 24 hours a day from the VA, with trained professionals waiting to help.
No military service is easy and some leaves scars that simply do not go away and an average of 22 vets a day kill themselves. We don't want this to be you.
There are three ways to reach the Veteran's Crisis Line:
800/273-8255, press 1
send message to 838255
Something To Know: Online Help Exploring Your VA Benefits (5/8/19)
Friends, click here for a VA website that provides an excellent resource for exploring the benefits we've earned serving our country. It includes information on disability benefits, education and training benefits, and employment services, among others.
You can even apply online, though if you are not comfortable with that, please, come and see me. It's what I'm here for.
If this is your first time filing a claim with the VA, please bring your DD-214 and be prepared to sign a power of attorney (POA) so I can act on your behalf. (That is all the POA allows me to do, act on your behalf. I can't access your bank account or do anything else.) Having these items will make things go smoother for us.
We do not have to file a complete claim on your first visit. We can file what's known as an Intent To File, which reserves your date of claim - the date which benefits are paid from - and gives you a year to file a completed claim. I am here to help you with all of this, at no cost to you.
Something To Know: Your VA Mortgage Benefit (5/1/19)
I haven't been on the job all that long, but already I've had a couple of questions about our VA mortgage benefit. It's a valuable and useful tool when buying a home.
One thing to note is the VA does not lend you the money. It does, though, guarantee a portion of the loan, which will lead some lenders to offer more favorable terms, such as concessions on closing costs. It also allows you to buy with no down payment, which can be a significant barrier to new homeowners.
The benefit does not expire and can be used multiple times. You were given a form when you were discharged or resigned your commission or warrant detailing this benefit, though if you don't have this form your lender can get it.
It's a government program, so there are restrictions and whatnot, but any veteran purchasing a home will do well to consider using this benefit. My wife and I used for our purchase in 2014 and it made things a lot smoother.
Click here (it's a VA website) for more information.
Something To Know: Blue Water Sailors (4/29/19)
The Court of Appeals for the Fed Circuit (FedCir) recently ruled that Blue Water Sailors who served within 12 nautical miles (a bit more than 13-and-a-half land miles) of the Vietnamese coast are entitled to the same presumption of Agent Orange exposure that Brown Water Sailors are.
If you were a blue water sailor who served within 12 nautical miles of the Vietnam coast, and you want to file a claim, or have a claim pending or already denied, please come to talk to me so we can discuss your options.
I can help with the following.
- Filing VA claims and appeals
- Healthcare enrollment
- Nursing home care
- Disability compensation
- Education and training
- Vocational rehabilitation and employment
- Home loan guarantees
- Life insurance
- Burial benefits, headstones and markers
- Survivor benefits
- Replacement of military records, medals and awards
- Employment Assistance
The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.
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American Legion and VFW Posts in Routt County
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