By: Meghan Stubblebine

Discussion surrounding veterans’ benefits generally focuses on federal benefits available through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Many benefits, however, are available, but underutilized, through states’ veterans services departments. In addition to federal benefits, veterans with honorable discharges generally are eligible for state benefits programs.

Virginia’s Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, for instance, recently began a program that provides telecommunications equipment to military veterans with hearing or speech loss.[1] This new program, administered through Virginia’s Technology Assistance Program, has a lower eligibility standard than disability compensation benefits program through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  To be eligible for Virginia’s program, a veteran only has to have hearing or speech loss and proof of an honorable discharge, unlike the Department of Veterans Affairs requirement of a service connected disability. A veteran who does not meet this requirement may still be eligible if he or she suffers from hearing or speech loss and a service-related disability rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is a surviving spouse or child of a veteran killed in duty and has hearing or speech loss, or is an active member of the Virginia National Guard who has completed initial active-duty service. State programs, such as this telecommunications equipment program, can be quite beneficial to veterans who have difficulty establishing a service connected disability through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ benefits system.

This is not Virginia’s only program benefiting veterans, however. Virginia’s Department of Veteran Services hosts many programs aimed at benefiting those who served, such as long term care, employment benefits, and educational benefits.[2] Virginia Veterans Care Center offers affordable nursing and assisted living care to veterans with honorable discharges. The Virginia Veteran Employment Commission offers job placement resources for veterans having difficulty finding jobs. Virginia also offers two educational programs: the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program, which waives tuition and fees to state-supported colleges and universities for eligible veterans, and the Honorary Diplomas Program, which grants honorary high school diplomas to veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War.

Although Virginia’s state benefits are most relevant to the work at the Puller Clinic, all states have benefits available to veterans in addition to federal benefits.[3] Another state that the Puller Clinic commonly works with is North Carolina. Similar to Virginia, North Carolina offers affordable nursing homes to veterans with honorable discharges.[4] North Carolina also offers an income tax relief program and a property tax relief program to service-connected disabled veterans.

Enrollment in state benefits programs may help veterans receive federal benefits as well. In California, the Veterans Benefit Enhancement Project helps veterans receiving state benefits to obtain federal benefits.[5] The state assigns a County Veteran Service Officer to assess the veteran’s federal eligibility and assist him or her through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ application process. In Washington, the Veterans Enhancement Project uses a database to find veterans eligible for VA benefits.[6] These state projects probably will spread to other states over the next several years because states benefit from reduced Medicaid payments, and veterans benefit from increased benefits payments.

State programs can be more accessible to veterans and act as a good stepping stone to federal benefits. The new Virginia telecommunications program is a strong example of a program where many veterans will benefit. With upwards of sixty percent of veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq having hearing loss from military service,[7] many veterans may be entitled to this benefit.



[1] See Jeff Caldwell, Veterans Now Eligible for Telecommunications Equipment from Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Office of the Governor Robert F. McDonnell, available at http://www.governor.virginia.gov/news/viewRelease.cfm?id=1453.

[2] See Veterans Benefits, Virginia Department of Veterans Services, available at http://www.dvs.virginia.gov/veterans-benefits.shtml.

[3] See State Veteran’s Benefits, Military.com, available at http://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-state-benefits/state-veterans-benefits-directory.html; State/Territory Veterans Affairs Offices, Department of Veterans Affairs, available at http://www.va.gov/statedva.htm.

[4] See North Carolina State Veteran’s Benefits, Military.com, available at http://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-state-benefits/north-carolina-state-veterans-benefits.html; Veterans Affairs, North Carolina Department of Administration, available at http://www.doa.nc.gov/vets/.

[5] See Veterans Benefit Enhancement Project, California Department of Health Care Services, available at http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/services/medi-cal/Pages/VBE.aspx.

[6] See Kyung M. Song, Vets get benefits they didn’t know they had, Seattle Times (Sept. 23, 2006), http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2003271974_veterans23m.html

[7] See Jeff Caldwell, Veterans Now Eligible for Telecommunications Equipment from Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Office of the Governor Robert F. McDonnell, available at http://www.governor.virginia.gov/news/viewRelease.cfm?id=1453.

By:  Andrew J. Wolf

As the VA backlog continues to grow, many veterans are left wondering whether reforms are anywhere in sight and what those reforms might entail. There is little doubt that substantial long-term reform is necessary, but there are solutions that the VA could implement in the short term. One of those solutions is simply to improve the quality of current administrators and ensure that the VA’s current resources are used efficiently. Recent reports from the Inspector General reveal several incidents in which the VA has exercised little oversight over its own spending or made other costly business decisions.

One such report investigated a decision to combine two VA Medical Centers in Northeast Ohio.  In 2000, the VA began considering whether to renovate the VA Medical Center in Brecksville, Ohio, or whether to merge the Brecksville facility with the Cleveland facility located 22 miles away. An aging Brecksville facility, coupled with a desire to eliminate duplicative services between the two facilities, led the VA to choose a merger.  Initial reports estimated savings of between $10 and $30 million per year. One decade and a county-wide corruption scandal later, the VA Inspector General has determined that the urban Cleveland facility lacks sufficient space; the VA underestimated the costs of consolidating the facilities; and the VA is overpaying for administrative, parking, and housing services.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the merger could cost nearly half a billion dollars over the next twenty years.

The Inspector General also investigated a VA training conference held in Orlando in response to allegations of wasteful spending.  The Inspector General’s report estimates that the conference cost the VA $6.1 million, approximately $762,000 of which was “unauthorized, unnecessary, and/or wasteful.” One of the unauthorized expenses included nearly $50,000 spent on producing a parody video of General George S. Patton.  The Inspector General cited the lack of oversight and supervision by the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources & Administration, among others, as the principle cause of the excessive expenses. The Assistant Secretary resigned prior to the release of the Inspector General’s report, but the Washington Post reports that Congressmen have asked the VA Secretary to request the resignation of John Gingrich, the VA Chief of Staff.

The Inspector General released reports about the Orlando Conference Scandal and the Cleveland Merger in the last two weeks alone. Whether these incidents arise from poor business decisions, lack of supervision, or outside corruption, the losses sustained by the VA raise serious questions about the ability of current VA administrators to efficiently use their resources.

With more and more veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, the VA will be under greater pressure to process applications for benefits, and its resources will be stretched even further. Short term reforms that ensure better management and use of resources will be vital when large scale reform appears a long way away.

A Toll of Two Wars

October 15, 2012

By: Travis Roberts

At the end of September this year, the War in Afghanistan arrived at a mournful milestone: the 2,000th death of a U.S service-member.[1]  The news passed with acknowledgment but not frenzy in our national dialogue.  The same could not be said of the 2,000 death in Iraq, which gripped headlines and spurred national policy debate in 2005. At that milestone, much focus was given to the toll that the war was exacting on our service-members. [2]   The plight of those affected by combat was a common theme in our national dialogue, and the need to address their suffering was widely discussed.  Unfortunately, this has faded over the years.  While Americans still readily support and respect their veterans, various factors have diminished the attention given to veteran issues in the years intervening these two milestones.  These distracting factors range from elections and prolonged economic difficulties to national debt and public war fatigue.  After all, the Afghanistan conflict has entered its second decade.  Yet service-members are still dying.  And those that survive are still returning with scars—physical and mental—that need care.  Sadly, these heroes are often met with bureaucratic hurdles and backlog before they can gain that care.  While these constraints are not new for veterans, the timing of shrinking public attention to veterans issues may be harmful.   The Department of Veterans Affairs is significantly backlogged on claims, and the problem is only expected to worsen as more veterans continue to return from combat.[3]  An informed and contributive public is essential to address this current and growing crisis.

Fortunately, policy-makers take the crisis seriously.  Recently, top officials from the White House met with the William & Mary Law School’s Lewis B. Puller Jr. Veterans Benefit Clinic to discuss these issues.  The White House officials displayed a commitment and concern to veterans that was inspiring.  They commanded an understanding of the structural difficulties that have created these backlogs, and they were open to suggestions for solutions.  Most importantly, they demonstrated how apolitical this issue is for them—and for all Americans.

But committed public officials, alone, cannot do the job.  The need is too great; the cost of failure is too high.  For a veteran that suffers from disorders such as PTSD and TBI, the effects of delayed care and compensation can be personally devastating.[4]  Tackling these issues will require much more than devoted public servants.  Indeed, the public—our businesses, our universities, our professionals, and our charities—must band together to address this national yet intensely individual crisis.  Now is not the time to take our eye off the ball.

 

 

 



[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/2000-dead-cost-war-afghanistan/story?id=17367728

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/26/international/middleeast/26deaths.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[3] http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/29/health/delayed-veterans-benefits/index.html

[4] Id.

Last month we wrote about a case involving a challenge to the practice of including veteran’s disability benefits in spousal support obligation calculations.  The case had been appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court after three courts in Oregon had ruled against the challenger, Mr. Barclay.  On October 1, 2012, the Supreme Court decided not to decide the issue, denying the petition for the Court to hear the case.

Had Mr. Barclay succeeded at the level of the Supreme Court, the consequences would have rippled throughout the country, since most states use the same or a similar approach to Oregon’s, including Virginia.  It looks like for now, however, states may continue including veterans disability benefits in their spousal support calculations.