By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom
Yesterday at AW2 Annual Training, we focused on the Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits available to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. At the 2009 AW2 Symposium, AW2 delegates identified “Veterans Affairs Education for Army Wounded Warrior Program Advocates” as one of the top five issues facing the AW2 population. AW2 has acted on this over the course of the year, and today, we went through in-depth training on several specific VA programs.
New! VA eBenefits
AW2 staff were very impressed by the new VA e-Benefits system – they literally broke into applause several times during the presentation. The new system is a collaborative effort between DOD and VA that will allow Active Duty servicemembers and Veterans to perform several essential functions online, including:
- Apply for VA benefits, such as a home loan
- File a claim and check the status of pending claims
- See a history of all payments, including the amount, reason, and payment method
- Get a copy of essential records, such as the DD-214
- Learn what actions they need to perform so VA can move forward with their claims
This was so impressive to AW2 staff that approximately 40 Veteran and Active Duty staff members leapt to their feet immediately after the presentation to enroll – VA graciously sent two staff members to enroll people on the ground.
I got to talk to AW2 Advocate Margarita Aponte from Puerto Rico, while she waited in line. She was ecstatic about the difference this online system will make for AW2 Soldiers and Veterans in Puerto Rico.
“This is the way of the future for our wounded warriors so they can manage their affairs from home,” Margarita said. “In Puerto Rico, it will help prevent Veterans from driving across the island looking for paperwork. This is a great investment that will allow Veterans to manage their own affairs, gain independence, and streamline their transition from the Army to the VA.”
Post-9/11 G.I. Bill
AW2 staff also learned the details of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Veterans with at least 36 months of active duty service are entitled to 36 months of education benefits, and those with less than 36 months are entitled to a percentage based on their time in service. Depending on the individual’s circumstances, Veterans may also receive a book stipend and a housing allowance based on the cost of living for the area. In addition, servicemembers who attend school while on active duty will have their full tuition and fees funded.
There are several other important aspects to this program, and AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members should talk to their AW2 Advocates for more information about:
Yellow Ribbon Program: participating private schools that will work with the VA and the Veteran to cover the difference between VA-approved public school tuition and the private school’s tuition
Housing Allowance: there are a lot of rules governing the housing allowance; Wounded warriors should look at these closely to ensure that they’re getting the maximum benefit
Transfer of Entitlement: Servicemembers may transfer their education benefits to a spouse or dependents, but must do so before separating from the Army
Specially Adapted Housing Program and Home Improvement and Structural Alterations
The VA has several programs to assist wounded warriors with adaptive housing. I’ve summarized the presentation’s key points below, but AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families should work with their AW2 Advocate and the VA for the most up-to-date information that affects their personal situation.
Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Program, the Special Housing Adaptations (SHA) grant, the Home Improvement and Structural Alterations (HISA) Programs are all excellent resources for AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families that want to adapt their homes to address the wounded warrior’s mobility challenges.
VA Guaranteed Home Loan Program: VA home loan guaranties are issued to help eligible servicemembers, Veterans, reservists and unmarried surviving spouses obtain homes, condominiums, residential cooperative housing units, and manufactured homes, and to refinance loans. It can be used to obtain a loan to:
- Buy or build a home
- Buy a residential condominium unit
- Buy a residential cooperative housing unit
- Repair, alter, or improve a residence owned by the Veteran and occupied as a home
- Refinance an existing home loan
- Buy a manufactured home and/or lot
- Install a solar heating or cooling system or other energy efficient improvements
VA Claims and Fiduciary Process
In addition, AW2 staff received training on the VA Claims and Fiduciary Process. The overview of VA claims included service-connected disability compensation, the non-service connected pension program, and Benefits Delivery at Discharge, a new pre-discharge claims process that will allow active duty service members to begin their relationship with the VA within 60-180 days before formally being discharged.
In addition, the VA representative explained the way the VA assigns fiduciary representatives to minors and those who cannot manage their own VA benefit funds, the oversight process, and the ways it ensures that VA benefits are used appropriately.
Today’s VA session was incredibly informative, and AW2 staff have a much deeper understanding of the VA benefits available to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. By working closely with the VA, AW2 can continue to ensure that all AW2 wounded warriors receive personalized support and the resources available to them.