- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dear Sgt Shaft:

Must a veteran pass away first and be buried in a VA cemetery in order for his wife to be buried there?

Kind regards,

Barbara G.
Via the Internet

Dear Barbara,

The answer to your question is no, the veteran does not have to pass away first.

Veterans discharged from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable and service members who die while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, as well as spouses and dependent children of veterans and active duty service members, may be eligible for VA burial and memorial benefits. The veteran does not have to die before a spouse or dependent child for them to be eligible.

To find out more information on eligibility, contact your local VA National Cemetery via the facilities locator found at www.cem.va.gov, or call the VA at 1-800-827-1000.

Shaft Notes

• Military and veterans’ health care programs again top the list of benefits deemed most important by more than 1,300 current and former service members who participated in a recent survey sponsored by the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA). The military nonprofit association sponsors an annual quality-of-life benefits survey to gauge the concerns of the military community and determine the association’s top legislative priorities for the coming year. FRA shares data from this and its other quarterly surveys with legislators and military leaders to help inform them about the impact legislation may have on service personnel and their families.

Consistent with responses from the past several years, survey results revealed that health care is a principal concern for all segments of the military community — active duty and Reserve personnel, retirees and veterans. Health care access and/or the quality of care was the top-ranked concern by active duty personnel, retirees and veterans, while it ranked third among Reserve participants, behind retirement benefits and pay. More than 95 percent of active duty respondents, 91 percent of retiree participants, 89 percent of veteran respondents and 78 percent of Reserve personnel taking the survey identified access to Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans’ Affairs (VA) health care programs as “very important.”

Base pay and housing allowances rounded out the top three concerns among active-duty respondents. FRA continues to press for active-duty pay raises that recognize the challenges of military duty and enhanced housing standards and allowances. Other concerns include education benefits, family readiness and spouse employment.

All Reservists responding to the survey ranked Reserve retirement benefits as “very important,” which strengthens FRA’s efforts to reduce retirement-age eligibility by three months for each 90-day period of active service since Oct. 7, 2001. Current law only grants this reduction for Reserve personnel who served since Jan. 29, 2008 — the date the law was enacted — and excludes service prior to that date.

This year’s survey results show that more than 70 percent of retired respondents, up from 65 percent last year, are frustrated by laws that prevent many from receiving their full military retired pay and VA disability compensation. The concurrent receipt of these earned benefits for all disabled retirees, without offset, remains a high priority for FRA.

FRA also seeks improvements to the VA claims process, a “very important” concern for more than 81 percent (up from 66 percent last year) of veterans who took the survey. Reducing the backlog of unresolved VA claims is one of FRA’s top veterans’ priorities, along with its efforts to reverse the department’s policy that prevents Vietnam veterans who served off-shore from claiming disability benefits for diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange.

FRA sponsors a new survey each quarter, asking current and former enlisted members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard to share their views and concerns. These matters are consistently addressed in FRA’s congressional testimony, correspondence with key legislators and military leaders, and in one-on-one meetings with lawmakers and their staff. All current and former service members are invited to participate in FRA’s current financial literacy quiz at www.fra.org/survey.

• The VA will extend health care to eligible veterans in halfway houses and other temporary, post-incarceration housing under a new program aimed at cutting back on repeat offenses.

“There’s hard evidence that lack of access to health care, including mental health care, for newly released inmates is a factor in people becoming homeless or returning to prison and jail,” said Jim McGuire, director of VA’s Veterans Justice Outreach Programs. “These are veterans who otherwise qualify for VA health care.”

A long-standing rule has barred VA from providing health care to veterans for whom another federal, state or local government has an obligation to provide health care. Frequently, that means inmates of prisons and jails.

Under the changed rule, that prohibition would be amended and VA would be allowed to provide health care to veterans in halfway houses and other temporary, post-incarceration housing.

An Urban Institute study in 2008 found that good health care in the first months of community re-entry played a key role in easing readjustment and reducing recidivism.

About 29,000 to 56,000 veterans are released annually from state and federal prisons, and at least 90,000 veterans are released each year from city and county jails, according to Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service on Tuesday announced the availability of $600,000 in “Stand Down” grants that will provide an estimated 10,000 homeless veterans with opportunities to reintegrate into society. The grants are being awarded under the department’s Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program.

“Stand Down events across the country will reach thousands of homeless veterans — including homeless female veterans — with opportunities to re-enter America’s workforce,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, who is also chair of the Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Through these grants, the federal government will engage states and local communities as active partners in readying those who have served our nation for civilian jobs.”

Stand Down is a military term referring to a brief respite from combat.

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.