Gaylon Kent - Veterans Service Officer
Welcome To Your VSO
I am in the office three days a week and am here to help you deal with the VA, be it signing up for VA medical care (give me a call, most veterans are eligible), or to help file a disability claim or an appeal. We can also talk about your benefits and we take great pleasure in helping widows and other family members.
So give me a call and let's get to work.
Have a good day,
Potential Government Shutdown
Comrades, it is entirely possible that large segments of the government will shut down on Saturday.
This will not affect the VSO nor will it affect most VA services. For example, the following services will not be affected:
- Veteran health care is not impacted. VA Medical Centers, Outpatient Clinics, and Vet Centers will be open.
- VA benefits will continue to be processed and delivered, including compensation, pension, education, and housing benefits.
- Burials will continue at VA national cemeteries. Applications for headstones, markers, and burial benefits processing will continue.
- The Board of Veterans’ Appeals will continue decisions on Veterans' cases.
- VA Contact Centers (1-800-MyVA411) and the Veterans Crisis Line (Dial 988, Press 1) are open 24/7.
The following services will be affected:
- VA will not provide Veteran career counseling or transition assistance program activities.
- The GI Bill Hotline will be closed.
- VA benefits regional offices will be closed.
- VA will cease public affairs and outreach to Veterans.
- VA will not permanently place headstones or maintain the grounds at VA national cemeteries.
- VA will not process applications for pre-need burials.
- VA will not print new presidential memorial certificates.
Free Dental Checkups For Veterans
Pine Grove Dental Arts is offering free dental exams to veterans on Wed Oct 11.
Call them at 970/879-1959 to make an appointment.
The New VSO Is Open
The new county building is now open to the public, so we can now make appointments and take walk-ins.
My hours will remain the same, and I look forward to serving you. The new office is bigger than the old closet you may remember and it even has a window.
Spiegel Industrial Is Hiring
Friends, Speigel Industrial is hiring painters and construction laborers for projects around Routt County. Pay is between $20 & $35 an hour depending on experience, and the company takes pride in its training and advancement programs. Some experience is preferred, however, a good attitude is the primary requirement. A driver's license and a high school diploma are required, and the drug test includes marijuana.
For more information or to apply, click here Version OptionsGaylon Kent - Veterans Service Officer Headline or contact Wade Larrew directly at 970/819-4526.
New VA Mental Health Benefit
Comrades, the VA has introduced an important mental health benefit - it is now paying all costs associated with emergency mental health care. Veterans who had 24 months active service and did not receive a dishonorable discharge are eligible and is for veterans in acute suicidal crisis.
You do NOT have to be enrolled in VA health care to take advantage of this benefit.
What is not clear is exactly how you notify the VA that utilized this benefit. We are working on that so please, keep all bills and receipts.
If you have any questions, call me.
Click here Version OptionsGaylon Kent - Veterans Service Officer Headline for more information.
The US Senate recently passed the PACT Act, a bill that expands the services to veterans exposed to burn pits. Specifically, the act establishes 23 new presumptive respiratory illnesses and cancers linked to burn pits and other hazards.
If you had burn pit exposure and want to discuss this, give me a call.
New VA Presumptive Illnesses
Comrades, the VA has announced several new presumptive diseases for veterans exposed to burn pits during service in southwest Asia anytime after 09Aug90 or in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria or Djibouti beginning 19Sep01.
The diseases are:
The VA will start processing claims this summer and click here Version OptionsGaylon Kent - Veterans Service Officer Headline for complete information.
Veterans Resource Tour and VA Town Hall
Fellow vets, the VA Grand Junction will be in Craig on Wednesday, May 11 all day at VFW Post 4265 at 419 E Victory Way.
From 1300-1730 they will be available for questions about benefits or to sign you up for VA medical care or to discuss your disability claim.
From 1730-1900 they will hold a town hall meeting. Call 970/314-6597 for more information.
Free Call-in Legal Clinic
There is monthly call-in legal clinic designed for senior and low-income veterans (all people, really) on the first Thursday of every month, put on by Colorado Legal Services. The next one is Thursday, April 7th, from 1630 to 1800 and attorneys field questions on family, landlord/tenant, and consumer/collection law, plus protection orders. The number to call is 800/521-6968.
For more information, call Jen Cuesta, Colorado Legal Services, at 303-866-9384.
Free Yoga Classes For Veterans
Comrades, we're happy to announce that we now have a few options for free yoga classes in Steamboat Springs.
- The Yoga Center of Steamboat, located at 701 Yampa Street, Steamboat Springs (above the E3 Chophouse) now offers all classes free to veterans. Please be ready to present ID in person or email a digital copy to Yoga Center Staff Email to pre-register for classes. Pre-registration is recommended. The class schedule is on the Yoga Center Website. The Yoga Center of Steamboat provides all needed yoga gear, but you're encouraged to bring your own.
- Veterans Yoga Project offers a variety of free online classes via Zoom and other platforms, and has a library that you can choose from to practice on your own time. Visit Veterans Yoga Project website. If you have questions, please Email Val Brainerd.
Assistance for Needy Veterans
American Legion Post 44 here in Steamboat has received a sizeable, anonymous contribution from a community member that is specified to help veterans in need this holiday season. The help can be for a variety of reasons, from help paying a heating bill or car repair if the car is needed for employment to food cards to purchase needed groceries.
If you are veteran in need this holiday season, or if you know one who is, give me a call or an email and let's get the process started. You can also contact Jim Stanko at 879-3936.
You do not need to be a member of the American Legion or the VFW to take advantage of this program.
Comrades, VA medical care is a good benefit to have, and you do not need to have a service connected-disability to apply. It's open to all qualifying veterans.
There's no age limit for signing up, either. There is a maximum income requirement, however, roughly $60,000. It's an excellent benefit to have regardless of your age. It's useful for younger veterans who might change jobs occasionally and older veterans will find it a nice compliment to MediCare or their private insurance.
So give me a call and let's see if VA medical is right for you.
Veterans Yoga Project
Friends, fellow veteran Val Brainerd has organized a weekly yoga class for us vets on Thursdays. It's from 1600-1700 at the STARS Ranch at 35465 Hwy 40, south of the hotels outside of town. Classes will run through Nov 11.
They're free of charge and all experience levels are welcome. Ms Brainerd said it would be nice if you could bring your own mats. The STARS Ranch has some, but not very many. The classes are open to family members, too.
Free Dental Care
As many of you know, dental care is not covered by VA medical and if you do not have dental insurance - or even if you do - dental care can be expensive.
Dental Lifeline offers dental care to veterans who meet one of the following criteria:
1) have a permanent disability; or
2) are over 65; or
3) have a chronic or serious illness
Go to Dental Life Line to find out more and to apply.
Friends, our comrades continue to kill themselves at an alarming rate, almost two dozen a day, and September is Suicide Prevention Month.
If you are a vet having trouble coping, the the VA has help for you.
- Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1
- Text a message to 838255
- Chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat
VA Medical Benefits
Friends, VA medical benefits are not reserved for those with a service connected disability, they are available to all veterans. There is an annual income requirement, roughly $60,000, but if you're under that, you are eligible. It's a useful benefit to have, especially today when people sometimes change jobs frequently.
So give me a call and let's get you signed up.
Caregiver Support Group
Casey's Pond in Steamboat offers a caregiver support group on the second Wed of each month from 1500-0600. The group is hosted by trained facilitators from the Alzheimer's Association and is a good opportunity to talk with people going through the same thing you are.
Caregiving is not easy and you are not alone. For more information, call Angel Hoffman at 970/387-6067. A 24/7 helpline is available, too, at 800/272-3900.
VA ER and Urgent Care Benefit
For those with VA medical, there are ER and urgent care benefits available, useful up here, of course, because there is not a VA hospital in the area.
(If you do not have VA medical and would like to sign up, call me. You do not need to have a service-connected disability to sign up, though there is an income requirement.)
They are accessed differently.
An emergency is defined as something that will kill you or otherwise prove hazardous if not treated immediately and if you are in this situation the VA wants you to call 911 or get to an ER as soon as possible. Prior approval for an ER visit is not required.
To insure your claim is paid, you must notify the VA within 72 hours of your arrival in the ER. Do this by calling them at 844/724-7842 and for goodness sakes add this to your cell phone contacts right now because you never know.
Note: this benefit is not available in foreign countries unless it is for treatment for your service connected disability.
Because urgent care visits are not emergencies, approval must be secured in advance from a facility already approved to handle VA patients. Up here, the only urgent care facility signed up with the VA is Rapid Care in Craig, which is adjacent to Walmart on the far end of town.
Before treatment, they will authorize that you are eligible and the service is free at the time of treatment. The VA will bill you for any co-payments.
The VA puts out a card that explains everything, and you may find it useful to carry one with you or keep it on your phone. View or download the Community Care Urgent Assistance Card .
Note: If you are out of the area, locate a participating urgent care facility by visiting the Find VA Locations website.
VA Suspends And Cancels Some Debt
Fellow, vets, the VA has announced it is suspending the collection of Veteran benefit overpayments incurred between April 6, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. This means if the VA has overpaid you for a disability benefit, it will not attempt to collect it back until a later date.
Additionally, medical and pharmacy copayments incurred during this period will be canceled and any payments refunded.
Read the latest VA benefits newsletter. It's got some good information in it.
Friends, the Colorado Alzheimer's Association has support for those dealing with someone with Alzheimer's disease.
There is phone support and virtual support sessions as well. For more
information please call the 24/7 helpline at 800/272-3900.
COVID Vaccines at VA Grand Junction: No Age Limit
VA Grand Junction is taking appointments for the COVID vaccine and there is no age requirement.
Call them at 970/242-0731, option 2 and then work your way to the operator.
Increasing Your VA Rating
Recently we talked about the VA reducing a veteran's rating because the ailment has been cured or isn't as disabling as it used to be. This is good because while it means your monthly benefit will decrease, it also means you are not as disabled as you used to be.
The VA will also increase ratings when warranted, too. If your service-connected disability has increased you may be entitled to an increase so, please, call me and we can talk about it.
Increases are not automatic and the procedure is similar to the filing of the original claim and you will need a recent medical exam, too, but increases are there when warranted and applied for.
Fellow veterans, the TSA, as usual, is looking for agents at the Hayden airport. Click TSA JOBS to apply.
The VA Reducing Your Rating
It's rare when the VA wants to reduce a service-connected disability rating, but if your condition is improving, they very well might.
It is important to note the VA never does this unilaterally; they will send you a letter "proposing" to do it and you will always have 60 days to respond. The letter will also list the medical reasons why they are doing it, and it could get fairly detailed and you might not understand all of it.
You have a couple of options here: one, do nothing. You may think the VA is being entirely reasonable and in that case the reduction will happen automatically.
On the other hand, if you disagree with it, take the letter to your doctor - civilian or VA - and get their advice. If your doctor thinks it is unwarranted, he will put that in writing and then that is sent to the VA, plus a statement from you, a statement I can help you prepare.
So don't panic when you get this letter. Call me and we will discuss it.
Free COVID-19 Counseling
Friends, if you've been affected by COVID-19 and the stress from it seems a bit overwhelming, there are support groups available, with online meetings chaired by professional counselors.
It's called the Colorado Spirit Initiative and can be a useful resource. Visit Mind Springs Health page for more information.
The VA and the COVID Vaccine
Friends, the VA has begun vaccinating front line VA health workers and veterans at the severest risk to contract COVID.
- The VA will offer a vaccine free-of-charge to any veteran who wants one. HOWEVER, you must be enrolled in VA health care to get one.
- If you are not enrolled in VA health care and would like to be, call me.
- The first to receive the vaccine from the VA will be VA health care workers and veterans in VA nursing homes. Second priority will go to those at high risk of serious illness or death from COVID, including older vets and those with certain health problems like diabetes and heart issues.
- When you are eligible for a VA COVID vaccine, your VA health care team will contact you. There is no need to contact them.
- Visit Covid-19 Vaccine page for more information from the VA.
New VA Phone Number
Answering to numerous complaints about how many VA phone numbers there are., the VA has consolidated everything into one number:
(800) MyVA411 or (800) 698-2411
It's pretty easy to remember and it should prove useful. It's manned 24 hours a day it's good for all things VA: benefit questions, cemetery information, facility locating, anything you would call the VA for.
All other direct numbers - including the Veterans Crisis Line - remain in service.
VA Co-Pay Information
Friends, if you're like me and the VA sends you prescriptions, you may be wondering why you haven't seen a bill in a while. That's because the VA has suspended payments through the end of the year.
Now, it hasn't waived charges. Co-pays are still accumulating and they billing will resume in January.
For more information from the VA on the matter, including information on requesting hardship assistance, visit the Manage Your Health Online page.
Writer's Workshop Seeks Someone To Conduct Veterans Writing Workshop
Friends, Steamboat Creates is looking for someone to lead their Veterans Writing Program next year. The classes are scheduled to run from January 11 through the end of March, though it could last longer. Classes meet weekly, are one hour long and can be scheduled around your personal schedule.
The workshops are designed to be therapy for veterans and are also open to their families and caregivers.
The ideal candidate is also a veteran, a resident of Routt County, and has some experience writing and teaching. The position pays $125/class, and this includes planning and teaching.
If you are interested, email Sylvie Piquet, program director at Steamboat Creates at email@example.com and please put Veterans Writing Workshop Leader in the subject line.
If you have any questions, give me a call.
County Building and Annex Now Closed
Friends, for the time being, public access to the county building and the annex is denied to the general public. This means your Veterans Service Office is closed to the public, so please don't come for a walk-in or call to make an appointment.
I am still on the job, though, available by phone and email at the usual times. And the VA is still open, too, so we can file claims and appeals as we normally would.
Free National Park Admission For Veterans
The Congress recently voted to give free national park access to veterans and Gold Star Families (families who have lost a loved one in wartime).
This includes Guard and reservists, too. All you need is to produce one of the following IDs:
- A Department of Defense retiree ID
- VA Health System ID
- Veteran ID card
- State DL or ID card with veteran's designation
Complimentary access is good year-round, but only includes admission. Things like camping and RV spots and other amenities are not included.
For more information, go to VA Benefits page .
There have been several calls about flu shots. Usually, they come up from Grand Junction but they are not able to this year.
Veterans can still get a free flu shot, though. There are two ways:
1) Go to the Craig teleclinic on Monday or Thursdays between 1300 and 1500 hours.
2) Go to the pharmacy at Walgreens, Walmart or City Market. YOU MUST HAVE A VA MEDICAL ID CARD. If you do, show it and your flu shot is free, too. The pharmacy will bill the VA.
Transportation And Mileage Reimbursement Policy Changes
The state has changed their driver reimbursement policy.
1. Instead of submitting gas receipts, all you need is the time of your departure and return, and the total number of miles traveled. The reimbursement rate is 52 cents/mile. This must be approved by the VSO beforehand. This will be routine, but there is a new form for you to fill out. I can email it to you, if you like, or you can come pick it up.
2. A stipend is still paid to anyone who drives you. If you drive at least four hours, the stipend is $55. If you drive less than four hours, the stipend is $25. The stipend is over and above mileage reimbursement.
3. If you or your driver needs to rent a car, we will reimburse that, too. THIS MUST BE APPROVED BY THE VSO AHEAD OF TIME. Stipend and reimbursement payments still apply.
4. These programs are open to any veteran driving to a medical appointment that is out of town, and that includes the teleclinic or hospital in Craig, or if your appointment is in Steamboat and you are driving in from out of town. You do not have to be a member of the American Legion or the VFW to take advantage of it.
5. This is only available to those who do not receive reimbursement from the VA. No double-dipping. The state will come and get their money back. We've seen it happen.
Call or stop in if you have any questions.
The St Louis records center is more or less closed for the time being, only handling emergency records requests for homeless vets, medical emergencies and funerals. Routine records requests, such as DD-214s, are not being handled and you can imagine the backlog when they do resume. Please be patient.
Friends, go to Steamboat Springs Jobs for current job openings. As usual, the TSA is looking for people at the Hayden airport.
Forbearance For VA Home Loans
If you have a VA home loan and you have lost income because of the COVID-19 pandemic and are or will have trouble making your mortgage payments, a provision of the CARES Act gives allows veterans to put off payments for up to 180. No paperwork is required, you merely have to call your lender and tell them.
There is more to it, of course, and further details can be found on VA Benefits page.
Assistance For Veterans In Need
Friends, there are a couple of options for veterans who are in financial need right now. Volunteers of America in Denver has funds available for veterans who lost work because of COVID-19 and are in danger of losing housing. They will come here, too, to meet personally with the veteran.
For help, call Bobbie Woods at 720/300-3704.
Also, the PenFed Foundation has funds for veterans in need. They will provide a one-time grant of up to $1,500 for rent/mortgage, car or utility payments. Go to PenFed Foundation page for more information and to apply.
Friends, don't forget to take the census. Currently Routt County's participation rate is about half of the rest of the state. If you haven't taken the census yet, please do so, either by filling out and mailing in your form or by going to the 2020 Census page. You can take the census online even if you don't have an ID number. Census forms are not delivered to PO Boxes, so if you do not get home delivery, please take the census online.
Friends, visit Steamboat Springs Jobs for the latest job openings in the area.
Stimulus Checks For Veterans Who Did Not File Taxes
Friends, if you did not file taxes for last year, you can still get your stimulus check. Visit the IRS page. You will need the following information:
- Full name, current mailing address and an email address, if you have one
- Date of birth and valid Social Security number
- Bank account number, type and routing number
- Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN), if you received one from the IRS
- Driver's license or state-issued ID number, if you have one
- For each qualifying child: Name, Social Security number or Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number and their relationship to you or your spouse
VA Medical Centers Treating All Veterans During COVID Pandemic
Friends, VA has announced that all VA medical centers will treating all veterans during this crisis. All veterans means all veterans, not just those with a service connected disability or those already signed up for VA health care.
Again, if you do not have VA medical care, the VA will treat you.
Here are the parameters:
- The illness does not have to be COVID-19 specifically, but it must be urgent and immediate. No coming in for dandruff.
- It cannot be treated by your private provider or usual clinic due to closures or other restrictions.
- COVID-19 testing is included.
- Currently, treatment is free for non-enrolled veterans if this service cannot be provided elsewhere.
- If the VA determines the need is not immediate, a veteran may be turned away in order to treat a veteran with an immediate need.
- For veterans not signed up for VA medical, the VA will treat you and then process your enrollment application. VA medical care is available to veterans even if they do not have a service connected disability.
- Do NOT go to the Craig TeleClinic. They are not equipped to handle walk-ins like this. Also, do not go to a civilian doctor and request treatment at VA expense unless you have a VA referral.
- Please call the Grand Junction VA before you go visit them. Their number is 970/242-0731. Tell them you are not signed up for VA medical but are sick and would like to come in to be looked at. They will take it from there. They will treat you first and then process your application for VA health benefits.
Veterans Assistance Fund
Fellow vets, it might be a while for times to get back to normal and for vets that have lost hours at work times could get tough. Through the American Legion, there are funds available to help with rent and utility payments, or to help feed a family. Call me if you have any questions. I will have more details here later.
Your VSO In The Coming Days: Still Being Of Service
Friends, just because my actual office is not accessible for the time being doesn't mean I cannot be of service to veterans and widows. It will merely be a bit different.
Please call first and we will discuss what we can, and do what we can, over the phone. Eventually, it is likely I will need some documents from you, like your DD-214, and those can be emailed or faxed in, or we can arrange something in person.
So please, don't think that just because the county buildings are closed to the public that you cannot file VA claims. Nothing is further from the truth.
Benefit Spotlight: VA Disability Payments
One of the main functions of the VA is to pay disability claims to veterans injured while in service to our country. Disabilities are rated from 0% to 100% and payments vary accordingly and ratings can be increased or decreased, depending on the condition of the veteran.
The VA requires three before approving a claim for a service connected disability (SCD):
1. A medical condition that began in the service or was a previous condition that was exacerbated in the service. Secondary conditions that were caused by the primary conditions are eligible for a SCD rating, too. A common example are hip or back problems that resulted from a knee injury;
2. A current diagnosis of a problem with the original ailment;
3. A statement from a doctor connecting the two. The VA refers to this as a nexus.
If you have these three things, you stand a good chance of having your claim approved.
Like everything in the service, there are exceptions. For example, if you served in Vietnam you do not need to prove you were exposed to Agent Orange. The VA presumes you were and recognizes assorted diseases and ailments presumed to have been caused by this exposure. A similar situation occurs for those who served at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River in North Carolina between 1953-87 and in the Gulf War.
Also, I've had veterans approved for a hearing loss SCD even though none was discovered while in service. I have seen claims approved this for veterans who served in Vietnam, and other places, where hearing protection wasn't issued and they were regularly exposed to loud noises, like artillery fire or airplane engines. .
But generally you need to meet the three factors listed above. So call or stop by and we will talk about any claims you might want to file.
Fellow veterans, Colorado Technical University is offering a full tuition scholarship for any of their degree programs. Applications will be taken from through Jun 30 and the 50 recip
ients 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 visit Colorado Technical University for more details.
Ceremony Honoring Steamboat Veteran
The organization Warrior Saber will be holding a ceremony honoring Steamboat veteran Anthony Camacho on Saturday, March 21 at 0900 at Steamboat Crossfit, 2645 Jacob Cir in Steamboat. That is up Elk River Road, behind the Atmos Gas building.
There will be a formation and Mr Camacho will be presented with a sword for his service as both a soldier and a veteran. Camacho served in the Army for 22 years, including service in Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq and South Korea.
Warrior Saber regularly honors veterans throughout NW Colorado. For more information on either the ceremony or Warrior Saber, contact Shawn Wentz at 970/901-1821.
Friends, visit Steamboat Springs Jobs for the latest openings. There are a variety of them and the TSA is, as always, hiring for out at the airport.
Benefit Spotlight: Discharge Upgrades
This isn't a benefit per se, but we've had some inquiries about this recently, so we are going to talk about it today.
There are several types of discharges: honorable, general under honorable conditions, other than honorable (OTH), bad conduct (BCD) and dishonorable. A service member can also receive an entry-level separation (ELS) if they are deemed unfit for military service with their first 180 days of service. An honorable discharge, of course, entitles a veteran to all VA and military benefits and general under honorable conditions discharges give the veteran access to all but a few VA benefits, most commonly educational benefits. Veterans generally lose their benefits for OTH and BCDs, though there are rare exceptions. Those separated with dishonorable discharges and ESLs forfeit all benefits, unless an ESL was injured while in service.
Discharges that are not honorable can be issued administratively by a service or they can be ordered by a general court-martial. Court-martial discharges are adjudicated by the Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR), while other discharge upgrade requests are handled by the Discharge Review Board (DRB). Both can change the character of your discharge and your reenlistment code, while only the BCMR can change a discharge to or from a medical discharge. The BCMR can also revoke a discharge and reinstate a veteran to active duty.
It's not easy to get a discharge upgraded, but it can be done if you believe was unfair based on the infractions committed or because required procedures were ignored or not properly followed.
Be prepared. Have your complete service and medical records, to include your case separation file or court-martial transcripts before you come see me. Have statements from people who can attest to your current good character to include buddy statements from people you served with.
It's not easy, and it is not common, but discharges can be changed and even revoked.
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.
Visit Veterans Property Tax page 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 visiting the Health Care page 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 at Steamboat Springs Jobs.
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 or you can visit Steamboat Acupuncture website.
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 Veterans
Steamboat 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, you can read and download a really useful brochure on the MISSION Act. 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 the VA Welcome Kit. 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, visit Tobacco and Health 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.
Visit VA Health Care page 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:
- 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.
- 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, visit the VA Benefits page.
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 at the National Cemetery Administration page.
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, visit Records Request page. 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, visit VA Benefits and Health Care 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.
Visit VA Home Loans 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
For information visit the American Legion Post#44 page.