Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sgt. Shaft: My husband was a Vietnam vet, 1st Infantry, and died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) on May 22, 2004. I understand the VA has listed ALS as a presumptively compensable illness, meaning there may be an association between it and military service. Are there any benefits I can collect? I am collecting Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) right now, as he was receiving 30 percent disability because of diabetes and that was listed on his death certificate as a secondary cause of death. He should have been classified as 100 percent disabled because of the ALS. Would I be entitled to anything other than what I receive now?


Rose Y, via the Internet

Dear Rose:

Those in the know at the Department of Veterans affairs tell me that DIC will continue to be your primary benefit. You will not be eligible for any retroactive and/or increased monetary benefits based on the ALS disability. However, you may be eligible for two additional benefits because of ALS now being considered a presumptive disease.

• Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) is a comprehensive health care program in which the VA shares the cost of covered health care services and supplies with eligible beneficiaries.

• Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA) provides education and training opportunities to eligible dependents of certain veterans. The program offers up to 45 months of education benefits. These benefits may be used for degree and certificate programs, apprenticeship and on-the-job training. If you are a spouse, you may take a correspondence course. Remedial, deficiency and refresher courses may be approved under certain circumstances.

To apply for these benefits, you should contact your nearest VA regional office or call the VA telephone number, 800/827-1000.

Shaft notes

The Sarge applauds Rep. Steve Buyer, Indiana Republican and ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, who initiated his Noble Warrior legislative agenda with the introduction of a number of bills to help improve the lives of veterans and their families.

“As we begin 2009 and the 111th Congress convenes, it is imperative that veterans’ health care, benefits and economic opportunities are among our highest national priorities,” Mr. Buyer said. “While improving the economy will be a major focus, we must also remember the thousands of men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“These heroes, and the veterans who served before them, are the pride of our nation and the thin line that stands between our freedom and tyranny.

“In addition to meeting veterans’ immediate needs, we must envision ways to best serve tomorrow’s veterans and ensure VA remains viable well into the future. Of the bills I introduced [on Jan. 8], I have urged House leaders and the incoming administration to include four of them in any economic stimulus package that might be considered.

“The Veterans’ Small Business Promotion Act of 2009, H.R. 294, would put stimulus funding where it would help both veterans and the economy the most. It would renew VA authority to guarantee loans of up to $500,000 for small businesses owned and operated by veterans. VA would be authorized up to $1 billion in loan guarantees for each fiscal year. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and disabled veterans own and operate a significant percentage of small business firms.

“The More Jobs for Veterans Act of 2009, H.R. 295, would increase funding for the Department of Labor Veterans [Workforce] Investment Program (VWIP) by $20 million per year. VWIP helps veterans acquire employment skills relevant to today’s job market.

“The Veteran Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Subsistence Allowance Improvement Act of 2009, H.R. 297, would increase the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment monthly living allowance rate from $520 to $1,200 per month.

“The Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans with Children Reintegration Grant Act, H.R. 293, would authorize appropriations of $10 million annually to provide reintegration services for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children.

“In addition to the bills I believe should be included in the stimulus package, I introduced the Armed Forces Disability Retirement Enhancement Act, H.R. 296, to simplify military disability retirement. The system is far too complex, and it is unfair to confront wounded warriors with more difficulties when their focus should be on recovery and their loved ones.

“Systemic problems were identified more than two years ago, but they have yet to be resolved. This bill would ensure that those found unable to serve would automatically receive military retirement benefits based on rank and years of service. This provision would end the offset between military retirement pay and VA disability compensation. Medical retirees would also automatically receive health and dental coverage.

“Currently, such eligibility hinges on the findings of a military physical evaluation board. Injured servicemembers should not have to endure the added worry as to whether physical evaluation boards will grant such benefits.”

Secretary of Veterans Affairs James B. Peake and Harry N. Walters, chairman of the Veterans Coalition and former administrator of the Veterans Administration, recently signed a formal memorandum with the Veterans Coalition Inc. to coordinate the programs of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that help veterans, their families and their survivors.

In accordance with the terms of this agreement, the VA and the Veterans Coalition will assist NGOs in identifying the unmet needs of veterans, families and survivors and help minimize duplication of effort and confusion among NGOs having programs for veterans.

• 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

The Sarge applauds Rep. Steve Buyer, who has introduced a number of bills to help improve the lives of veterans and their families.

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