Many Vets Unaware They Qualify for Health Benefits
Many U.S. veterans are unaware of health care, tax breaks, and other state and federal benefits they are entitled to, according to local liaisons to former troops, USA Today reports.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs there are 25 million veterans. VA in fiscal year 2006 provided health care to 5.5 million veterans and insurance to 4.5 million veterans and active duty personnel. The department also provided disability pay to 2.6 million veterans; pensions to 320,000 veterans; education benefits to 500,000 veterans; and guaranteed home loans to 180,000 veterans.
VA holds briefings and distributes booklets informing military personnel about their benefits after they are discharged and sends all veterans "welcome home" packets with reminders and contact information. However, veterans often do not know they are eligible to receive financial or medical assistance or increases in disability pay, according to Jim Golgart, a veterans service officer in Le Center, Minn.
John Scocos, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, said, "A lot of veterans from all eras do not understand or know about their benefits." Jim Lynch, a veterans service officer in Valparaiso, Ind., said that many veterans "put the green suit away and that's it," and then decades later, many develop health issues and "wonder what help they're entitled to." Long gaps can make it difficult to find records detailing injuries and illnesses during a veteran's service, Lynch said.
Thirty states have county veterans service officers who provide veterans with information and aid them in filling out paperwork, and the remaining states have state or regional officers. Scocos said outreach grants to state agencies from the federal VA could help improve the problem. Legislation (HR 67) pending in the Senate would create a separate budget for VA outreach, and the House has approved a similar measure. VA spokesperson Matt Smith said, "VA is conducting a very active outreach effort to recently returning veterans" (Keen, USA Today, 1/9).