Federal and Michigan Veterans’ Benefits: An Overview
At any given time, those who volunteer to serve in the United States military constitute a select group: even when we include the reserves, the number of men and women who wear the nation’s uniform is less than one percent of the country’s population. Still, the number of veterans of military service is considerable, with more than 600,000 residing in Michigan alone.
It has long been the policy of the U.S. Federal government, as well as state governments, to thank those comparative few by providing an array of benefits to veterans, as well as their spouses and children. Our purpose here is to consider veterans benefits in terms of what they include, who is eligible for them, how to apply and if necessary how to appeal a denial of benefits.
Federal Benefits for Veterans
The Federal government, through the Veterans Administration (VA), makes available to veterans and their dependents the following kinds of benefits:
- Compensation for Disabilities. Service-related disabilities can be among the most traumatic, both physically and mentally. Combat-related disabilities can leave a returning veteran with missing or crippled limbs, concussions and other head injuries, full or partial blindness or loss of hearing, respiratory difficulties, disfigurement and scarring, spinal cord injuries and full or partial paralysis among other life-altering physical effects.
The VA provides eligible disabled veterans (a dishonorable discharge precludes eligibility) with additional benefits. One of these, is tax-exempt disability compensation, the amount of which depends on analyzing your particular circumstances: the severity of the disability, and how many people you can claim as dependents. Disability compensation, combined with access to the VA health care system, can help a disabled veteran to avoid catastrophic medical expenses connected with treatment, while providing a financial buffer to compensate for a reduced ability or inability to work.
- Compensation for Surviving Dependents. The surviving spouse and children of military service members who died in service can be eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. Parents of such service members may be eligible for Parents’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.
- Health Care Benefits. The VA healthcare system provides a comprehensive services package for veterans, and to some extent, their family members that includes:
- preventive care (periodic medical exams, immunizations, nutritional education and healthy living programs)
- outpatient and ancillary services (dentistry, vision rehabilitation, pharmacy, occupational, physical, speech and respiratory therapy, chiropractic services, and more)
- inpatient care (medical and surgical services, intensive and acute care, more)
- programs specifically for women’s health care
- mental health services (inpatient or resident care, or at specialized facilities; services include treatment for substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychotherapy, sexual trauma and more)
- specialized treatment (traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, organ transplants, optometry, gynecology, dermatology and much more)
- veterans’ crisis line (connected to mental health, but focusing on preventing self-harm, harm to others or suicide)
- possible reimbursement for emergency care at non-VA facilities, subject to restrictions such as service-connected conditions, whether you are disabled, the nature and urgency of the emergency, the lack of availability of VA medical facilities and whether you have other health insurance, including workers’ compensation, Medicare or Medicaid
- home health care, geriatric care and hospice services
- If you served in an environment that could have exposed you to hazardous materials, the VA keeps a health registry database that can help you to arrange for specialized medical examinations.
Eligibility for VA health care meets the requirement to carry health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Although some VA health care services are available to all veterans on a priority basis, eligibility requirements apply to others, and a number of services (for example, abortions, gender alteration, and non-medically necessary cosmetic surgery) are unavailable.
- Educational and Training Benefits. The VA offers extensive assistance to veterans and their dependents who want to further their education, whether in the form of a college program or non-collegiate training. The Montgomery GI Bill, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, or the new Forever GI Bill can help pay costs connected with college, correspondence courses, vocational training, on-the-job and apprentice training, flight training, entrepreneurship training, cooperative training, and licensing or certification.
Aside from the GI Bills, other VA educational assistance programs include the Veterans Educational Assistance Program, and the VetSuccess on Campus program, along with programs to help dependents of living veterans through the Dependents Education Assistance Program and the Fry Scholarship.
- Pension Benefits. Some veterans qualify for a needs-based pension. Criteria for pension eligibility include any of: being 65 years of age or older, receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, receiving skilled nursing care in a nursing home, or being totally and permanently disabled.
- The pension is ordinarily subject to limits on other income sources, but can still be augmented depending on circumstances: Aid and Attendance or Housebound supplemental payments, also known as Special Monthly Compensation, can help to offset the costs of needing assistance with ordinary activities such as personal hygiene, dressing or eating, or if you are effectively confined to your home by the effects of a permanent disability (note that these additional pension benefits are exclusive to one another, and that they can also result in pension eligibility even if you were not otherwise qualified because of having too much income).
- Survivor pension benefits can also be available for income-qualified and un-remarried spouses of deceased wartime veterans who themselves would have been pension-eligible, as well as children under the age of 18 (or 23 if attending a VA-approved school) of the deceased veteran or who have suffered a permanent disability before reaching age 18 that makes them unable to support themselves. Special circumstances compensation can also be available for claims that are not necessarily service-connected.
- Housing Benefits. One of the best veterans’ benefits available is the VA-guaranteed home loan. Veterans who meet the eligibility requirements can avoid the need to make a down payment or to have mortgage insurance and avoid some closing costs. VA loans are reusable and can apply to either the purchase or refinance of a home. Refinancing options for existing VA loans to to secure a lower interest rate are available as well.
- Employment Benefits. One significant benefit that eligible veteran status provides is preferential consideration for federal employment. Depending on factors such as when you served, or if you served in a qualifying campaign, or if you still suffer a from a service-related disability, you can receive hiring preferences based on a point system. What is more, these point benefits can under limited circumstances transfer from the veteran to his or her spouse.
Additional employment-related support for veterans includes the Veterans Employment Center, which features a job bank, skills assessment tool, and listings of employers who have made a commitment to hire veterans.
- Life Insurance Benefits. Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) allows you to continue the life insurance you had under your Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) policy while you were serving, in the same coverage amount you were carrying or in a greater or lesser amount and with no need to provide evidence of good health or be asked any health-related questions. Policy coverage remains effective until you reach age 60. You must, however, convert your SGLI policy to a VGLI policy within one year and 120 days after leaving the service to be eligible. Beneficiaries of veterans with VGLI policies are eligible to receive financial planning assistance and online will preparation assistance for no charge.
- Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance is another form of life insurance for veterans who had any kind of service-related disability but who are otherwise in good health. Once the VA certifies that you have a service-connected disability, you have 2 years to apply for this coverage, which is basically for $10,000 but can be increased to $30,000 for an additional premium (totally disabled veterans can be eligible for a waiver of premiums for the $10,000 coverage).
- Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance covers veterans who have severe service-related disabilities and who live in and have title to specially adapted housing on which they also have mortgages. It can pay up to $200,000 of the mortgage balance or the outstanding balance (whichever is less). You must be less than 70 years old when you apply for this insurance.
- Burial Benefits. Burial in a national cemetery or private cemetery can include opening and closing of the grave, a government headstone or marker, a burial flag and Presidential Memorial Certificate. Many of these benefits are cost-free to the veteran’s family; in some cases, financial burial allowances are also available. Immediate family members of the deceased veteran can be buried alongside the veteran’s gravesite even if they die before the veteran does.
Parallel to the federal VA benefits, states, including Michigan, have established their own veterans’ benefit programs. Some of these programs are similar to their federal counterparts, while others are in addition to them. The following are some of the veterans benefits available in Michigan. In addition, we have a huge Macomb County Veterans Resource Guide available:
- Emergency Assistance Benefits. If you are a Michigan resident veteran need temporary help with household expenses, bills or other debts, then if you meet the eligibility requirements (discharge other than dishonorable plus either wartime service or service in a qualified campaign) emergency financial help may be available to you through the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund, County Soldier and Sailor Relief Funds, or other resources.
- Veterans Homes. Michigan has two facilities for veterans the J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans and the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. These offer eligible veterans a place to stay that also offers medical care, activities and educational programs, substance abuse recovery programs, dental and vision care, various types of therapy and assisted living services.
- Justice alternatives. Sometimes the lingering effects of mental health problems or substance can get veterans into legal trouble. States can create Veteran Treatment Courts as a way to help address these underlying contributing factors without the need to incarcerate nonviolent criminal law offenders; Michigan has 25 such courts.
- Disabled veterans can apply for a property tax waiver, if they can show that (1) the disability is service connected, (2) they are honorably discharged Michigan residents who are (3) using the property as a homestead, and can also show that they have one of three additional qualifying factors (permanent and total disability, receiving assistance for adaptive housing, or being VA-certified as unemployable).
- If a waiver of property taxes is unavailable, a disabled veteran can also apply for a tax credit for property taxes paid.
- Disabled veterans are exempt from the general state requirement to purchase hunting and fishing licenses. Permanently and totally disabled veterans can exempt one vehicle from state registration fees by registering for a disabled veteran license plate.
- Permanently and totally disabled veterans, former prisoners of war, and Medal of Honor recipients are entitled to free access to state parks and recreation areas that would otherwise require purchase of a Recreation Passport.
- Children or adopted children (not stepchildren) of select Michigan residents (servicemembers who died in wartime, or permanently and totally disabled veterans, or Michigan residents listed as missing in action in a foreign country) who meet eligibility criteria can apply for up to $11,200 in college scholarship assistance.
How Do I Apply for Veterans Benefits?
The sheer number of programs available for veterans and their dependents, coupled with the fact that not all veterans are eligible for all benefits, precludes a simple, “one-size-fits-all” approach to applying for them. A good starting point is the Applying for Benefits page on the VA Website, which breaks down the various benefit programs and has links to the application forms. Applications online can be located at the eBenefits site which the VA manages in tandem with the Defense Department. You can also request assistance online or seek assistance from a VA-accredited representative, and other organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion or other organizations that offer help with getting started in the benefit application process.
BASIC ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS
The basic eligibility criteria for VA Pension are:
- The Veteran must have served at least ninety (90) days active military service, one day of which was during a wartime period.
- The Veteran must have been discharged from service under conditions other than dishonorable.
- Must be permanently and totally disabled or over the age of sixty five (65).
- Must meet asset and income criteria.
There are three types of benefits we can help you qualify for. The Basic Pension benefit does not require any physical disability. However, the Housebound and Aid and Attendance benefits require the veteran and/or the veteran’s spouse to be in need of regular attendance by another person to assist in walking, getting in and out of bed, eating, bathing, dressing, or toileting.
ELIGIBLE WARTIME PERIODS
World War I ▪ April 6, 1917 – November 11, 1918
World War II ▪ December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946
Korean conflict ▪ June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955
Vietnam era ▪ August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975
(February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975 for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period)
Gulf War ▪ August 2, 1990 – through a future date to be set by law or Presidential Proclamation)
All three veterans benefits require the veteran and/or veteran’s spouse to have “countable income” less than the allowable pension amount to be eligible for veterans benefits. “Countable Income” is the amount of income a veteran and/or their spouse receives, after deducting all un-reimbursed, recurring health care expenses. This includes assisted living costs, in-home care, health insurance premiums, on-going pharmacy costs, etc.
Unfortunately, the asset requirements are vague and are defined as, “whether the person has sufficient means to pay for their own care.” Although there is a presumption that a couple may have $80,000 in assets and qualify, this is not always the case. This is why it is so important to meet with one of our VA accredited attorneys in order to become qualified.
VETERANS BENEFITS MONTHLY AMOUNTS
Low Income Pension
- Single Veteran with no dependents — up to $1,072/month
- Married Veteran — up to $1,404/month
- Surviving Spouse of Veteran — up to $719/month
- Single Veteran with no dependents — up to $1,310/month
- Married Veteran — up to $1,642/month
- Surviving Spouse of Veteran — up to $879/month
Aid and Attendance Benefits
- Single Veteran with no dependents — up to $1,794/month
- Married Veteran — up to $2,127/month
- Surviving Spouse of Veteran — up to $1,153/month
- Veteran Healthy – Spouse Needs Care – up to $ 1,408/month
To qualify, the veteran does not need to have a service-related disability, does not need to have retired from the military, and does not have to have been in combat.
What Happens if my Benefits Claim is Denied?
Many veterans benefits are eligibility-based, and on occasion the VA will deny claims as being ineligible. Or, even when the VA approves a benefit it may not approve it for the level of disability you believe it merits. If this happens to you, you do not need to accept the initial denial. The VA has a mechanism in place to appeal its decisions. You should be aware that the appeal process can be time-consuming and complicated, beginning with making the appeal through your local VA office within one year of receiving the denial of the benefit, and if necessary from there taking it up through the Board of Veterans Appeals. This process involves the gathering of evidence to support your claim (or to reopen a prior denied claim if you have new evidence to support it) and one or more hearings by the Board to decide whether to allow the appeal.
While you can undertake an appeal on your own, the step-by-step complexities of the appeal process can make it easy to become confused or to make a mistake that could prolong the process or even contribute to losing your appeal. Given the importance to you of receiving all of the benefits to which you are entitled to as a veteran, and the negative ramifications to you if those benefits are denied to you, seeking assistance from a VA-accredited attorney is a good idea. Sometimes you may be able to find this assistance at no cost, but even if your attorney requires compensation (often in the form of a contingency fee, meaning that the attorney is paid only if you are successful) it is still a worthwhile investment to maximize your chance of prevailing in your appeal.
Contact an Experienced Macomb County Veterans Benefits Attorney
Schock Solaiman Ramdayal, PLLC believes that practicing law is a privilege — one that allows us to empower our clients to get the results they deserve. Contact us for your free consultation to discuss your situation and needs. We work with you to determine your options and maximize your results. Call 586-239-0871 or contact us online to schedule your appointment today.