Delayed filing results in loss of VA benefits

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By Donald Mustard

    In July 2007 my office implemented a program of providing monthly information articles for publication in newspapers serving Lynchburg; and also Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell counties.  This program has consistently received the highest level of support from the newspapers, such as this one by publication of press items of interest to veterans.  This notwithstanding, I continue to encounter cases where the veteran or an eligible spouse has failed to receive benefits for which they are eligible.  The reason for non-receipt of benefits is sometimes due to the failure of the individual to file a claim.

    This month I will share with you a few actual claims I have assisted clients in filing in the past.  These cases all fled under the Improved Pension Program for non-service connected benefits and required an income test unlike the service-connected compensation which does not require an income test.  You will note benefits were not claimed for months, sometimes years after the claimant first became eligible.  In all cases the late filing of claims resulted in loss of significant monetary benefits for the claimant.  In each of these cases, benefits were paid from the first day of the month following the month in which the claim was filed. 
    The first case pertains to a veteran, age 63, who was self-employed for his entire working career after serving with the U.S. Air Force in Korea.  The veteran became fully disabled before reaching the age of 62 due to non-service connected circumstances.  As a result he was no longer able to operate his business and was forced to declare bankruptcy.
    The only income available to this veteran was the $455 monthly in social security benefits.  His wife, ineligible for social security was unable to work outside the home as it was necessary for her to provide full time aid and attendance for her disabled husband.  On the recommendation of a friend who has followed the articles in the newspaper concerning VA benefits, the veteran contacted my office for advice.  A claim was submitted and the veteran is now receiving the maximum benefits for non-service connected pension. The year 2010 benefit level for this veteran was $1,291 monthly less the amount received in social security benefits.   From the time he first met the criteria for VA benefits until he filed a claim, this veteran lost at least $10,000 and probably more by not filing when he first became fully disabled and no longer employable. 
    In another case the claimant, an unmarried WWII veteran age 74, last employed in 1980 filed a claim with VA in 1995. His claim for benefits under the Improved Pension Program was approved and his monthly income was significantly increased above the $478 monthly he had been receiving in Social Security benefits.  In 1995 an unmarried, 100 percent non-service-connected disabled veteran, who did not meet the requirements for being either housebound or requiring aid and attendance was eligible for $8,037 annually ($669 monthly) an increase of $191 monthly. This veteran was eligible for a non-service connected VA pension for at least nine years before submitting a claim to VA.  I estimate that based on 1995 dollars he lost approximately $20,000 by not sending in his claim when he first became eligible. 
    So you see it is in your best interest to file claims with VA when you first become eligible.  Please, if you know of a person who may be eligible for VA benefits and has not filed, ask them to a contact a Veterans Service Officer for assistance.
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    If you would like further information or assistance in submitting a claim to VA please call Don Mustard, the Veterans Service Officer for: the Lynchburg based DAV Chapter 8, VFW Post 8164 and, American Legion Post 16 at 434-401-7335.  The office, located in the American Legion Post 16 building at 1301 Greenview Drive, Lynchburg  is open for walk-ins Tuesday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and for Thursday by appointment.  The information for this article was derived from the department of Veterans Affairs Service Office Guide, 2010 edition and applicable VA rate charts.