- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I have been declared 100 percent permanently disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs for almost three years now because of Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. I have been told that disability compensation varies by state. If this is true, how do I find out if I am receiving the proper amount of compensation in the state of Michigan where I live?

Thanks for your help.

Frederick Z.

Via the Internet

Dear Fred:

VA compensation is federally funded and administered; the payment rates do not vary by state. Congress authorizes a cost of living adjustment (COLA) every year. This COLA is effective Dec. 1 on an annual basis. The current monthly rate for a 100 percent service-connected disabled veteran with no dependents is $2,527.00. Benefit rates also may be found on the VA Web site, www.vba.va.gov/.

If you need additional assistance, you may reach the VA by calling toll-free 1-800/827-1000.

Shaft notes

• Hats off to the president and Congress for much-needed bipartisan action.

Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, announced that H.R. 4986, the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2008, was signed into law by President Bush. The act contains provisions improving the transition from active duty to veterans status and improving Veterans Affairs health care for returning service members, especially those with traumatic brain injury or mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Among the key provisions to improve care for veterans and their families, the act:

• Provides an additional three years of access to free VA health care for returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan.

• Improves and expands VA’s ability to care for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injury, including research, screening, care coordination, and working with non-VA providers to provide the care needed by our veterans.

• Requires a comprehensive policy to address mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

• Requires the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to streamline the records transmission process, including moving forward with fully interoperable medical records.

• Provides for a more seamless transition between active duty and veterans status, including a single physical exam for Defense and Veterans Affairs benefits.

• Creates Wounded Warrior Resource Center to serve as a single point of contact for service members, their families and primary caregivers to report issues with facilities, obtain health care and receive benefits information.

• Requires VA to provide age-appropriate nursing home care for our veterans.

• Allows members of the National Guard and reserves that are eligible for Reserve Educational Assistance Programto use their education benefits for 10 years after separation.

• Requires a study on the feasibility of streamlining statutory provisions addressing GI Bill benefits for active duty and Guard and reserves.

H.R. 4986 represents a cooperative effort between the Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees to address the problems facing wounded veterans and cut through the red tape often faced by our returning service members when they transition from the Department of Defense to the VA.

• The Sarge joins the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in its efforts to block attempts to create a separate disability system that would have the Department of Veterans Affairs compensate veterans with similar wounds differently based on their age.

“There is no difference between a 22-year-old shot in the leg on Iwo Jima 63 years ago this month and a 22-year-old shot in the leg in Iraq yesterday,” said VFW National Commander George Lisicki, a Vietnam veteran from Carteret, N.J.

The VFW wants more attention paid to the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission that Congress chartered in 2004 to study the benefits that compensate and assist veterans and their survivors for disabilities and deaths attributable to military service. After thousands of interviews and almost three years of research, it published a 562-page report in October that included 113 detailed recommendations.

“The Dole/Shalala Commission’s mandate was not to make broad generalizations and sweeping recommendations that would throw out a disability compensation system that has served millions of veterans extremely well over the years,” Mr. Lisicki said. “Dole/Shalala was good, but it wasn’t that good, and it certainly wasn’t thorough enough to be touted as the ‘cure-all’ for all the VA’s problems.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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