Veterans Administration benefit changes

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By Donald Mustard

On Sept. 30, 2008, President Bush signed the FY2009 Defense Appropriations Act to fund programs authorized in the FY2009 Defense Authorization Act  he signed Oct. 14, 2008.  These two acts are now law and include several significant changes in benefits for the active duty military, reserves, National Guard, military retirees and veterans.  Some of the changes affecting retirees and veterans follow:

    - President Bush signed the cost of living adjustment (COLA) into law on Sept. 25, 2008.  The COLA was increased to 5.8 percent effective Dec. 1, 2008, and will be in the Jan. 1, 2009, checks.  This COLA increase will also include; benefits received from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to include veterans and survivor’s pension and compensation, military retirement annuity, and Social Security benefits.  

    - Medicare announced in late September the basic Part B premium and annual deductible will stay at $96.40, the 2008 rate.  In a change to regulations on Sept. 30 VA announced that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s” disease is now designated as service-connected.  If a veteran has this disease he or she should get in touch with a veterans service officer for details.

    - Also in late September VA announced changes to its schedule for rating disabilities for traumatic brain injury (TBI).  The new rules base TBI ratings on the degree of  ”cognitive impairment” and other “residuals” of TBI.   

    -  On Oct. 13, President Bush signed two veterans’ related bills into law.  The Veterans Mental Health and Other Care improvements Act of 2008 and the Veterans Benefits Improvements Act of 2008.  Some of the highlights of the Mental Health bill were: Conduct research into post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders through the National Center for PTSD.  Provide mental health care, including counseling, for families of veterans.  The Veterans Benefit Improvement Act included among others:  Establishing an Office of Survivors Assistance within VA and, redeveloping the certification exam for VA claims processors and, requiring an evaluation of the training and quality assurance program.   

    - In a news release on Oct. 24 VA announced an enhanced mortgage option now available for veterans with conventional home loans.  The changes will allow VA to assist a substantial number of veterans with subprime mortgages to refinance into a safer, more affordable, VA guaranteed loan. Veterans who wish to refinance their mortgage may now do so for up to 100 percent of the value of the property.  It was also reported that VA’s authority to guarantee Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) and Hybrid ARMS was extended under this new law through Sept. 30, 2012.  

    For the last 13 years, Congress has failed to pass the VA health care funding bill on time, but not this year. Breaking with a bad tradition, Congress adopted a substantial increase in veterans’ program funding and saw it signed into law by the President on Sept. 30.  The VA funding bill includes the following:

    - VA Medical Services - $30.97 billion, including funds to start enrolling more means tested veterans known as “priority group 8” veterans in VA care; $3.8 billion for more mental health services; $584 million for substance abuse programs; and $250 million for new generation prosthetics for wounded warriors. 

    - VA is authorized to hire 2000 additional employees to reduce the staggering backlog of claims.

    - Information Technology, $2.5 billion for needs at medical facilities

    Now would be a good time for you to join, or to renew your membership in a veteran’s service organization as the magazines cover benefits such as those listed above  and are well worth the  membership dues.   

     For information contact VA at (800) 827-1000 or the Service Officer at 434-316-0229.  The service office located in the Marine Corps League Bldg at 2337 Lakeside Drive is open for walk-in Tuesdays 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and Thursday by appointment.  Information on benefits can also be obtained via the internet at http://www.va.gov