According to Leslie Schaeffer, MSW, LCSW, Outreach Coordinator with Bethesda Hospice Care, many senior veterans and their spouses are unaware they may be entitled to Veterans Administration (VA) benefits.
“Even those who are aware find the process of applying for them very complicated, with application forms that are typically 10 pages long or longer,” Leslie says.
For that reason, among others, Bethesda is making the process easier for Veterans and their families to understand the benefits for which they are eligible, as well as recognizing the service and sacrifice of Veterans within its communities, through the “We Honor Veterans” program.
We Honor Veterans
“We Honor Veterans” is a national awareness campaign conducted by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Bethesda Hospice Care is one of just a few hospice organizations in the St. Louis area to have earned the program’s top-tier rating.
“As part of this program, we train all members of the hospice staff to understand the unique needs of Veterans,” Leslie says. “For example, we know Veterans with traumatic combat experience may react differently than other patients to pain-relieving medications.”
Licensed social workers like Leslie encourage discussions with Veterans about their experiences, screen for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and provide appropriate interventions. Knowing how to speak with Veterans is vital to avoid what is called “secondary wounding,” a misunderstanding of the deep impact of PTSD. Secondary wounding can lead people who have never been traumatized to dismiss its effects on Veterans and sometimes even blame them for their prolonged suffering.
“’Survivor’s guilt’ is also a very common experience for combat veterans,” Leslie says. “It is important to understand that it is never too late to give Veterans a warm welcome home, and provide them an opportunity to help them find space to make peace with their emotional pain.”
Bethesda also focuses on gratefully acknowledging the service of senior Veterans in providing military service certificates, pinning ceremonies on Veterans Day, a candle lighting observance on Memorial Day, and a special ceremony specifically honoring Veterans who have died in Bethesda communities.
Common VA Benefits
There are many VA benefits with different qualifying criteria for them—too many to detail here. Below are some of the most common benefits, accompanied with brief explanations:
Service-Connected Disability Compensation
Service-Connected Disability Compensation is a monetary monthly benefit for Veterans who are disabled by an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated and connected to, active military service during wartime.
To be eligible, the Veteran has to have been on active duty a minimum of 90 days, one day of which was during wartime, and have been honorably discharged.
The amount of compensation is determined by the degree of disability. “One of the most common disabilities I see that Veterans often overlook is hearing loss due to combat,” says Leslie. She also notes exposure to Agent Orange also carries a long list of disabling effects.
The greater the disability, the larger the compensation, she says, and a Veteran’s income does not affect the benefit amount awarded. Receiving the benefit does not decrease military retirement pay.
A VA pension is paid to wartime Veterans who have limited or no income. The Veteran must 65 or older or, if under age 65, deemed permanently and totally disabled.
The Veteran must have been honorably discharged, served at least 90 days of active military service with one day during wartime. (After 9/7/1980, the Veteran must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which the Veteran was called or ordered to active duty.)
The amount of quantifiable family income is set annually by law. Those exceeding the maximum income required to qualify may deduct their out-of-pocket medical, dental expenses, and include medical insurance premiums, assisted living or private duty expenses, and copays for doctors’ offices. If the total expense reduces their income under the limit, they may qualify.
Aid and Attendance
If a Veteran is in need of support from another person to assist them in the activities of daily living and keep them safe in their environment, they may qualify for the aid and attendance benefit. “Aid and attendance is an additional payment if they have met the qualifications for either the service-connected disability or the VA pension,” says Leslie.
“If they suffer from a decline for the same diagnosis of service-connected disability, and they need to pay for, say, private duty care to stay safe at home, then they can submit a claim for increased compensation for this service,” she continues. “If they experience a decline in health not connected to their service, and yet they meet all the VA pension requirements, they can also submit a claim.”
A death pension is paid to eligible dependents of deceased wartime veterans. Dependents can be an unmarried child or surviving spouse who have limited or no income.
A benefit for burial expense is also available, as well as services to aid senior Veterans and their families in planning for the future, obtaining loans, insurance, and finding local resources that provide care and information.
One source is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Given there are three different VA departments, Leslie suggests an online visit to the Veterans Health Administration Department for medical information.
To submit an application claim, the veteran must be able to supply a certified copy of their DD214 discharge papers. If not, it is easy to request one from the National Personnel Records Center.
Bethesda Helps Veterans and their Families
“We know it is sometimes a difficult process to locate and understand the information Veterans need to qualify for these benefits,” says Leslie. She facilitates monthly Veteran support group meetings at many Bethesda communities for Bethesda residents. She also provides free Veteran benefits seminars throughout the community or individual support as needed.
If you or a loved one is a senior Veteran, contact Bethesda Hospice Care to learn more about the support we provide to senior Veterans and their families.