Top Ten Things to Know about Veterans Benefits

Veterans are often surprised at the number and types of benefits that are available. If you're just getting started in applying for veterans benefits, there are some basic things you should know.

Nobody is going to hand you your veterans benefits

That would be too easy. Instead, you have to know what benefits there are, you must find out what the eligibility criteria is to receive a particular benefit, you need to know which government agency is in charge of that benefit, and then you have to ask for the benefit.

The definition of veteran varies when it comes to veteran benefits

You would think, by now, that our government would agree on who is entitled to call themselves a veteran. You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. Unfortunately, there’s no single legal definition for the term veteran when it comes to veterans benefits. Because different benefits were enacted into law at different times by different Congresses, each benefit has varying qualification criteria.

You can qualify for some benefits with just one day of military service. Other benefits require you to serve a minimum amount of time. Still others require that you meet certain conditions, such as having a disability resulting from military service.

The government doesn't know if you're a veteran or not

You’d also think that the government would have some kind of massive computer system that would have all the details about your service in the United States military. You would think Uncle Sam would know when you served, where you served, how long you served, what medals you may have earned, and what kind of discharge you received. Once again, you’d be wrong.

You must prove you deserve veteran benefits

Maybe in the future, but right now if you want a particular benefit, it’s up to you to prove your status as a veteran. You do this by providing copies of your military discharge paperwork.

You might not need an honorable discharge to get veteran benefits

You may be one of those who think that you need an honorable discharge to qualify for a veterans benefit. Many veterans believe that. The truth is, some benefits require an honorable discharge, but there are many benefits you can receive with a general or other than honorable discharge as well.

"No" to veterans benefits doesn't always mean no

You may ask for a benefit and be told no. You may be told that you’re not eligible for the benefit because of this or that, even though you believe that you meet the eligibility criteria. Maybe you asked for a benefit years ago, only to be told you don’t qualify, so you gave up.

Maybe you were told no, and you don’t even know why. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has developed a bad habit over the years of phrasing its rejection letters in such a way that even legal eagles couldn’t understand them.

Fortunately, the agency isn’t allowed to do that anymore. A brand-new law (passed in September 2008 by your friendly neighborhood Congress critters) now requires the VA to use plain, simple, everyday language when it rejects a benefit claim. Wow! What a great idea! Why didn't anyone think of this before?

Submit the right paperwork for your veterans benefit

Even if the VA says no in simple, plain, everyday language, it doesn’t mean that it’s right. Most of the time when the VA rejects a claim, it’s because you didn’t provide the correct paperwork — what the VA calls supporting evidence.

You can ask the VA to take another look at your case, and if it still says no (stubborn little rascal, isn’t it?), you can appeal the decision. There’s even a federal court that does nothing else but hears appeals for veterans benefit claims.

Well-known veteran benefits

You may be surprised to find out how many goodies are available to veterans and their family members. Some of these benefits are well-known, such as medical care and disability compensation. Other ell known goodies include free or low-cost medical care, cash payments directly from Uncle Sam, and plans designed to help you get a college degree or vocational training,

Not-so-famous veterans benefits

You may have never heard of other veteran benefits, ranging from loans to open a small business to free headstones when you finally move on to that big battlefield in the sky.

In addition, you might not know there are programs that assist you in finding and getting your dream job, programs that help you buy a house or find a place to live in your golden years, shopping and travel perks, memorial and burial benefits, and services and programs available to surviving family members.

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