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Newsletter for Veterans and active military


VA mobilizes federal agencies to offer free legal services to help Veterans:

On Nov. 5, 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) together with representatives from the departments of Labor, Justice, Defense, Homeland Security, the U.S. Navy and others, signed a joint statement aimed at improving access to free legal services for Veterans in need.

Federal agencies and the Veterans legal services community came together at VA headquarters in Washington D.C. to celebrate VA’s Medical Legal Partnerships and to recognize volunteers who serve at VA-based free legal clinics. Currently, VA hosts at least 170 free legal clinics in its VA Medical Centers, Community Based Outpatient Clinics and Vet Centers across the country, by partnering with external legal service providers, such as local bar associations, legal aid organizations and law school clinics. “Legal assistance stands high on the list of many Veterans’ important but unmet needs,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Our goal is to make sure our Veterans have access to not only health care and disability benefits, but to community legal services that are central to their overall well-being.” Veterans often face stressful legal situations — such as eviction, foreclosure, child support or driver’s license revocations — that can affect their ability to gain or maintain employment and housing or focus on medical treatment. At the VA-hosted event today, VA and other federal agencies committed to encourage and further the provision of volunteer legal services to Veterans.

As a prime example of the VA-based legal clinics nationwide, attorneys and paralegals from VA and 13 other federal agencies have provided pro bono legal assistance on their own time to Veterans at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center’s legal clinic, run by the Veterans Pro Bono Consortium. During the past year, the legal clinic at that facility has served more than 800 Veterans.

VA, unions spar over move to end physicians’ use of ‘official time’:

Just thought some of our veterans and active military will find this interesting.

Veterans Affairs officials upped their fight with union leaders on Thursday by announcing plans to end “official time” status for more than 400 department employees, calling it a waste of taxpayer funds. At issue are provisions in federal law and the unions’ contracts with the government allowing certain employees to perform union duties during work hours. The activities do not include efforts to recruit or support the union itself but do include advocacy work like filing grievances or mediating conflicts.

The change goes into effect on Nov. 15. Among the positions prohibited from performing “official time” will be physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, optometrists, registered nurses, and physician assistants. Other job classifications will still be permitted to do the union-related activities.

Paws Of War launches nations first mobile veterinary clinic exclusively for veterans and first responders:

Paws of War’s latest mission is to help veterans and first responders get the veterinary care they need for their pets that they may be having difficulty obtaining. On Nov. 8, 2018, they will roll out the “Vets for Vets” program, which is a custom-designed RV that has been outfitted to be a mobile veterinary clinic. The mobile clinic, staffed by a veterinarian, will be on the move providing care to many veteran pets. The Paws of War goal is to train and place shelter dogs to serve and provide independence to our United States military veterans that suffer from the emotional effects of war such as PTSD. In turn each veteran can experience the therapeutic and unconditional love only a companion animal can bring.

It is projected that the mobile unit will tour Oklahoma in April 2019.

VA Pension with Aid & Attendance and Primary Residences:

Often time veterans and/or their surviving spouse talk to a service officer from a veteran organization about eligibility for VA Pension and Aid & Attendance, so I thought I would give some insight into the financial planning or impact of certain decisions.

When adjudicating Pension with Aid & Attendance (Pension) claims, the VA does not count a primary residence and a reasonable lot area toward a Claimant’s net worth calculation. This is true even if the claimant is a resident of an independent living facility, assisted living facility or nursing home. Often the equity in there is a claimant’s largest asset. Therefore, it is important for financial planning purposes to understand how VA law and regulation applies to methods of accessing this asset when a family needs to use the equity in their home to sustain the cost of long-term care.

SELLING THE PRIMARY RESIDENCE – Selling the primary residence while receiving Pension benefits will likely cause ineligibility. If a Claimant who is receiving Pension benefits sells their primary residence, the equity they net must be disclosed to the VA.

RENTING OUT THE PRIMARY RESIDENCE – Renting out the primary residence prior to or while receiving Pension benefits will likely cause ineligibility. If a claimant rents out their primary residence, the VA will count the rental payments as income

REVERSE MORTGAGE ON THE PRIMARY RESIDENCE – Reverse mortgages are a tricky area (Note: generally the same applies to bridge loans). The VA does not count monthly payments made to the claimant from a reverse mortgage as income. They characterize those payments as a loan that must be repaid. Therefore, the best way to use a reverse mortgage and qualify for Pension is to set-up the reverse mortgage to distribute monthly payments to the claimant. The problem arises when claimants contract for a lump sum reverse mortgage.

TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP OF THE PRIMARY RESIDENCE – Under current law, a claimant applying for or receiving Pension benefits can transfer the ownership of the primary residence without penalty. It is very important to note that such a transfer violates the Medicaid look back.

This is not intended as legal advice and should not be misconstrued as such. Everyone has different individual situations.

Transition assistance changes for active military:

The Transition Assistance (TAP) program will now have to begin a full year before separation for almost everyone. Previously it could start within 90 days of separation.

TAP will now have at least three separate “pathways” depending on your situation. These pathways will be different depending on if you are being medically discharged, looking for work, planning to go to school, retiring, etc.

The law gives DOD one year to come up with a plan.

Veterans, military retirees will see a 2.8 percent COLA boost for 2019:

Veterans receiving disability pay and military retirees will see a 2.8 percent cost-of-living boost starting in December, their largest increase in six years.

Social Security Administration officials announced that the cost-of-living adjustment for 2019 for their beneficiaries will be 2.8 percent, the biggest increase since 2012. Last year the increase was 2 percent, and the previous three years were only 2 percent combined.

Congress finalized work on the veterans’ benefits cost-of-living issue late last month. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed the measure into law. The end result is a boost in disability pay, dependents compensation, clothing allowances and a handful of other veterans’ benefits, set to start at the beginning of January.

Space-Available travel:

Totally disabled veterans are eligible for space available travel but you need to be aware of the fact that Space Available travel is when military planes or charters have empty seats and offer them to waiting eligible passengers. Eligible means they did their homework, have the right paperwork, and—really—just got lucky. The priority order for space available travel is service members and their dependents, active duty service members on emergency leave (Category I), or EML (Category II) get highest priority. Service members and any family with them traveling on leave get next priority, along with dependents of service members stationed overseas (Category III). After that comes dependents whose service member is currently deployed 120 days or more (Category IV), students whose sponsor is stationed OCONUS (Category V), and retirees and reservists (Category VI).

You must have your military ID card. You must have a passport if you are traveling overseas. You must have a letter from your command verifying eligibility from the service member’s command if you are in Category IV. You must have DD Form 1853 if you are a reservist. If you’re heading out of the country, consider getting an international driver’s license ($25 from AAA) before leaving home, since an American license won’t always allow you to rent a car overseas.

Ronald Pandos Pandos

By Ronald S. Pandos


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