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How to apply and receive veteran's benefits and services

Heather Ansley Vice President VetsFirst, a program of United Spinal Association
How to apply and receive veteran's benefits and services

Veterans are often eligible for benefits and services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a result of their military service. For some veterans and their families, figuring out how to apply for and receive these benefits can be a frustrating process. Knowing where to turn for advice can help veterans avoid problems in seeking the benefits they have earned and deserve. Veterans and their families should also consider services available to them from their state and local nonprofit organizations.


Do

Do review the Services and Benefits Available from the VA

VA provides a wide-range of benefits for eligible veterans. These benefits may include access to disability compensation, pension benefits, health care, education benefits, home loans, life insurance, and burial benefits. The Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors guide provides a good overview of the programs and services available through VA.

Do connect with a Veterans Service Officer

Every veteran applying for benefits from VA should seek counsel from a veterans service officer. These individuals are employees of a recognized veterans service organization or a state or county department of veterans affairs. Through their experience, education, and training these individuals have been “accredited” by VA as having the ability to represent claimants in pursuing VA benefits. An added benefit is that service officers provide help at no cost to you.

Do sign up for eBenefits

eBenefits is VA’s online web portal that allows veterans to update their personal information, apply for benefits, and monitor the status of their claim. In order to have access to all of the options available under eBenefits, you will need to apply through VA to receive a premium account.

Do expect to wait for a decision from VA

A claims for benefits from VA will likely take months or years to be finally decided. If you are terminally ill, homeless, or experiencing extreme financial hardship the VA should expedite the decision on your claim. However, even an expedited claim can take weeks or months before a final decision is made.

Do learn about benefits available from your state and local nonprofits

Veterans may be able to receive additional benefits from their states or local nonprofits. For example, some states exempt veterans who are 100 percent disabled from paying property taxes. Others provide educational assistance or other special benefits. Nonprofits can also help veterans meet needs such as home repair, legal assistance, and finding a job.


Don't

Do not delay applying for benefits

Veterans who are applying for VA disability compensation do not have to wait until they have all of the evidence needed for their claim. If you believe that you are eligible for VA benefits, then you should apply as soon as possible. If VA determines you are eligible for benefits, then you will typically be paid back to the first day of the month after the application for benefits was filed.

Do not go at it alone

Veterans applying for VA benefits do not have to navigate the process on their own. VA rules allow almost anyone to represent you during the process. Veterans who choose not to use a veterans service officer may use a registered agent or an attorney. Unlike service officers, agents and attorneys are allowed to charge for their assistance if you pursue an appeal of VA’s initial decision on your claim.

Do not send original documents

Never send VA original documents. Unfortunately, many documents are lost. Even if VA is responsible for losing the document, you will not receive the benefit of the doubt regarding its contents. It the lost document was critical to supporting a claim for benefits, then the consequences of its loss can be dire.

Do not ignore requests from VA for information or to appear for examinations

VA may request additional information. All requests for information should be responded to as soon as possible. In most cases, if the information is not received within 12 months, VA will determine that your claim has been abandoned. It is important to carefully read all letters received from VA as shorter response times (30-60 days) may be listed. Also, it is important to appear for any medical exams scheduled by VA. If you do not show up for an exam, then it may lead VA to simply deny your claim for benefits.

Do not give up

The process of applying for veterans benefits from VA can be long and frustrating. It is likely that there will be many delays in the process. If you end up appealing a VA decision, it can take years before a final decision is made. Trying to receive benefits that you have earned from VA is worth the wait. Access to monetary benefits, health care, and other resources can be life changing. Working with a veterans service organization will help you to stay in touch with your claim as it moves through the process.


Summary
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Many veterans are eligible for benefits and services as a result of their military service. Although the process can be frustrating, there are a lot of options that can help you work through it to receive the benefits you have earned and deserve. You should also consider benefits available to you beyond VA. Many organizations want to help veterans and their families reintegrate into their communities. Explore the available options and pursue those that are a good fit for you and your family.


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Heather AnsleyVice President

Heather L. Ansley is the Vice President of VetsFirst, which is a program of United Spinal Association. Ms. Ansley began her tenure with the organization in December 2009. Her responsibilities include managing the public policy advocacy, vete...

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