Ever wondered what is the VA? It’s a broad question, which makes it inherently difficult to answer. Still – let’s give it a try.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is the federal Agency tasked with caring for those who have served our great nation. The VA actually publishes a book yearly addressing this exact topic (http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book.asp). The last update was in 2014, but it remains over two hundred pages simply summarizing benefits programs without providing the detailed legal citations behind it. In short – the programs are easy to mention briefly, but vastly complex and challenging to understand and engage. Using the VA’s own book at an outline, though – let’s try and address those points briefly.
Healthcare. The VA offers healthcare based on several different Priority Groups for eligible veterans. This care can range from general medical treatment, providing prescription medication, surgery, providing prosthetic devices, emergency care, and mental health treatment – among many, many other things. The Healthcare side of the VA even handles certain issues regarding home purchasing and modification for some disabled veterans in the form of grants.
Service-connected disabilities. These are disabilities specifically evaluated by the VA as being linked back to a veteran’s time in service. Disability ratings can range from 0% to 100% for individual conditions, but are combined into a total using a calculation detailed in VA regulations. Ratings of 10% and higher carry with them payments which increase in 10% increments for combined/total ratings. There are also Special Monthly Compensation rating codes that can also factor in, potentially further increasing the disability payment rate.
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment. Vocational Rehabilitation is focused on helping service-connected disabled veterans find employment opportunities. Vocational Rehabilitation can also potentially lead to educational opportunities, depending on circumstances – as part of an effort to reintroduce the veteran to the workforce by adding new marketable assets in the form of coursework, certifications, or degrees.
VA Pensions. VA Pension is the abbreviation for non-service-connected pension. This is a program that offers financial assistance to wartime veterans who are either disabled for causes not linked to their service or sufficiently advanced in age to be consider unable to work. Pension also has financial requirements such as income limitations, but allows for medical expenses to be factored in against this – potentially allowing someone who is technically over the income limits to still receive payments under the program.
College Education and Training. Primarily referring the GI Bill, but also including Dependents Education Assistance – a program that funds higher education for dependents of certain disabled veterans. This section of the VA is tasked with helping service-members, veterans, and their dependents understand and, hopefully, qualify for educational benefits.
Home Loan Guaranty. Home Loan Guaranty is a program that offers a form of financial guaranty to financial institutions and private lenders in an effort to obtain better terms for qualified veterans and service-members. In essence, this program allows veterans to obtain preferential status with a lender that may avert the need for a down payment.
VA Life Insurance. Several programs managed by the VA offer life insurance for service-members and veterans. Also – a mortgage life insurance program is also linked to the VA.
Burial and Memorial Benefits. Burial benefits potentially include reimbursement of a portion of funeral and burial plot costs for whoever pays the cost of laying the veteran to rest. The VA may also provide other death-based benefits to the deceased: a headstone, marker or medallion for example. Also, the VA maintains the National Cemeteries.
Reserve and National Guard. Benefits specific to Reservists and National Guardsmen, as qualifications for many benefits such as Healthcare and GI Bill differ when applied to Reservists/Guardsmen.
Special Groups of Veterans. Special Groups are primarily veterans that are identified by the VA as needing specific help and care for varying reasons. These reasons can include veterans unable to maintain their financial affairs (in need of a fiduciary), veterans who have been reported to the VA as being homeless, or veterans that are known to be incarcerated. However, this can also simply be a way of identifying veterans living overseas or veterans who served with Allied Forces during WWI or WWII – meaning these identifiers serve many purposes.
Transition Assistance. Meant to be something of a shock absorber in helping veterans transition into post-military life, Transition Assistance is meant to help make that very difficult challenge less difficult and awkward. Check out veteran job boards!
Dependents and Survivors Health Care. This primarily takes the form of CHAMPVA: the Civilian Health And Medical Program of the VA. This program acts similarly to free medical insurance for certain dependents of qualifying service-connected veterans.
Dependents and Survivors Benefits. While this does include other benefits, such as Home Loan Guaranty and vocational training, it is primarily referring Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) & Survivors Pension. DIC and Survivors Pension are two benefits meant to offer support to the surviving spouse or children of a deceased veteran under specific circumstances – support in the form of monthly financial payments.
Appeals of VA Claims Decisions. Disability applications, whether service-connected or non-serviced-connected, may be appealed. Indeed, nearly any official VA decision can be disputed within certain time frames.
Military Medals and Records. This provides guidance on methods of obtaining records and replacement medals for veterans. Records may be obtained from VA and/or non-VA agencies – and often the best way to obtain full copies is to pursue the records from multiple sources.
Whew. That’s a lot of content that has been made as concise as possible in an effort to offer a brief insight into different areas without providing excess complexity. It serves as something of an outline to services the VA provides. But what about the sections of the VA behind those services?
The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) focuses on administration of benefits – primarily disability compensation, disability pension, the GI Bill, Home Loan Guaranty, and Life Insurance. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) manages the VA Medical Centers nationwide. The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) manages the care for the National Cemeteries and funeral arrangements within the National Cemeteries.