July 2001 By: Clark R McCray, II
County Veteran Service Officer
The Highlands County Veteran's Services Office is a County agency. The County Veteran Service Officer, Clark McCray and Assistant County Veteran Service Officer, Denise Williams, have bi-annual mandatory re-certification training by the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs (FDVA). The office was devised over 30 years ago to assist all former, present, and future members of the Armed Forces of the United States and their dependents in preparing claims for and securing such compensation, hospitalization, vocational training and other benefits or privileges to which they may be entitled under any federal or state regulation by reason of their service in the Armed Forces of the United States. WE ARE NOT THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS' AFFAIR (VA) - We Represent You!
ALL SERVICES PROVIDED BY THE HIGHLANDS COUNTY VETERAN'S SERVICES OFFICE ARE AT NO COST.
To obtain assistance and information in regard to claims and benefits, you can contact us at: Sebring 863-402-6623, Lake Placid 863-465-2464 or Avon' Park 863-453-7538. You may also contact the VA directly at 1-800-827-1000
Veteran -††††††††††† "Veteran" means, a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.
Compensation - A monthly payment made to the veteran because of a service-connected disability or to a spouse, child, or dependent parent of a veteran because of a service connected death occurring before January 1, 1957, or the veteran died on or after May 1, 1957, and before January 1, 1972.
Service-Connected - With respect to disability or death, that such disability was incurred or aggravated during service, or death resulted from a disability incurred or aggravated in line of duty in active military, naval or air service.
*For Florida Benefits-ONLY: Laws of Florida amended the period of war for Vietnam conflict back to February 28, 1961 to not require IN COUNTRY assignment to qualify.
One of the most important responsibilities of a service officer is to ensure that the claimant receives due process under the laws and regulations of the VA and other Federal agencies. Once an individual selects a service organization to represent him or her, there exists a legal obligation to ensure that all claims and evidence are properly and timely filed with the appropriate agency.
NOTE: Every claim for benefit provided by the VA requires specific actions by the claimant, representative, and the VA. The claimant is: responsible for "asking" for a benefit and providing the required forms and documents to support the benefit sought. The claimant must assume ownership of his or her claim. The claimant must participate at all stages and provide the assistance the representative and the VA requires. The representative is responsible for informing the claimant what forms and documents are required and assist in properly preparing and submitting the claim to the VA in a timely manner. The VA is responsible for processing the claim in a timely manner and informing the claimant and the representative of the results of his or her request. If anyone fails to fulfill their responsibility, the claim may die and benefits may not be received.
In most cases, the effective date of an evaluation and award of pension, compensation or Dependency & Indemnity Compensation based on an original claim, a claim reopened after final disallowance, or a claim for increase will be the date of receipt of the claim or the date entitlement arose, whichever is the LATER.
Checklist of documents needed to file claim
1.†††††††† Other Than Dishonorable Discharge Document†††† (DD-214)
2.†††††††† Marriage Certificate
3.†††††††† Social Security number for ALL dependents
4.†††††††† Medical Evidence of a CURRENT condition
a.†††††††† Evidence must be of an injury or incident cause/aggravated by service.
5.††††††† Linkage between the current condition and the injury or incident† in service.
6.††††††††††††††† "Buddy" letters
This evidence will further the chances of the Service Officer submitting a well-developed claim to the VA.
Improved Disability Pension
Congress establishes the maximum annual improved disability pension rates. Payments are reduced by the amount of countable income of the veteran, spouse and dependent children. When a veteran without a spouse or a child is furnished nursing home or domiciliary care by VA, the pension is reduced to an amount not to exceed $90 per month after three calendar months of care. The reduction may be delayed if nursing-home care is being continued to provide the veteran with rehabilitation services.
* Additional information can be found in the Compensation and Pension Benefits section of VAís Internet pages at www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/index.htm.
Burial Benefits Headstones/Grave Marker
A headstone or grave marker will be furnished by the VA for the unmarked grave of any veteran buried in a national cemetery, post cemetery, or private cemetery. They will also be furnished to commemorate any person who died while on active duty and whose remains have not been recovered, identified or were buried at sea.
There is no time limit on requesting a headstone or grave marker for a veteran's grave. The next-of-kin, or any interested individual, may request a headstone or grave marker for a veteran's death. Spouses or other interested parties should be prepared to furnish proof of military service in conjunction with a claim.
1.†††††††† Headstones are automatically placed at the grave of a person buried in a national cemetery. Headstones or grave markers are in most cases automatically placed at the grave of a person buried in a state-owned veteran's cemetery.
2.†††††††† VA Form 40-1330 is the application for Headstone or Marker.
3.††††††††††† The Headstone or Marker that is placed on a veteran's grave. The markers are prepared and shipped free of charge. It IS the responsibility of the next-of-kin or other interested part to bear the cost of having the headstone or grave marker erected or placed. In many instances, it is necessary to prepare the gravesite with a base upon many instances, it is necessary to prepare the gravesite with a base upon which to mount the grave marker and a charge for this may be charged.
4.†††††††† ERRORS ON HEADSTONES OR GRAVE MARKERS. Inscription errors that were made by the government contractor will be replaced. Other errors made on application, and signed by the next-of-kin or other interested party, may be corrected. Additions may be placed on marker but should be identified on the application, but there is a charge.
5.†††††††† Spouses or other interested parties who do not desire to utilize the government-furnished headstone or grave marker maybe reimbursed for privately procured graves if the veteran was buried between October 18, 1978 and October 31, 1990. The monetary allowance in lieu of Government furnished headstone or marker is not payable if death occurred on or after November 1, 1990. Such reimbursement shall not exceed the average cost of a VA furnished headstone or grave marker. Reimbursements requests are made on VA Form 21-8834.
6.††††††††††† To check on the status of a Headstone or monument, the Veteran's Services Office may call Monument Services in Washington, DC.
VA will pay a $300 burial and funeral allowance for Veterans who, at time of death, were entitled to receive pension or compensation or would have been entitled if they were not receiving military retirement pay. Eligibility also may be established when death occurs in a VA facility, a VA-contracted nursing home or a State Veterans nursing home. In cases in which the Veteranís death was not service-connected, claims must be filed within two years after burial or cremation.
VA will pay a $300 plot allowance when a Veteran is buried in a cemetery not under U.S. government jurisdiction if: the Veteran was discharged from active duty because of disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty; the Veteran was receiving compensation or pension or would have been if the Veteran was not receiving military retired pay; or the Veteran died in a VA facility.
The $300 plot allowance may be paid to the state for the cost of a plot or interment in a state-owned cemetery reserved solely for Veteran burials if the Veteran is buried without charge. Burial expenses paid by the deceasedís employer or a state agency will not be reimbursed.
Burial in a national cemetery is authorized for any person whose death occurred in the line of duty, active duty for training, or while hospitalized or receiving treatment at the expense of the U.S. Government for any injury or disease contracted in the line of duty. Interment in a national cemetery is also authorized for any veteran whose active duty service was terminated by a discharge under conditions other than dishonorable. Dependents, un-remarried surviving spouses and minor children are also eligible for burial.
How to apply:
The burial of a veteran or eligible dependent in a national cemetery should normally be handled through the funeral director who will make necessary arrangements with the cemetery. To make arrangements for veteran's burial during holidays and weekends (8:00 am. - 4:30 p.m.), seven days a week, call 1≠800-535-1117. The National Cemetery System normally does not conduct burials on weekends. A weekend caller, however, will be directed to one of three strategically located VA cemetery offices that remain open during weekends to schedule burials at the cemetery of the caller's choice during the following week.
State of Florida Benefits
††††† l .†† Identification cards for 100% permanent and total service-connected veterans. This card ††may be used by the FDVA to the veteran as a proof of eligibility for any state benefit, ††except Exemption of Homestead.
††††† 2.†††††††† Exemption of Homestead. Any real estate that is owned and used as a homestead by a veteran who was honorably discharged with a service connected total & permanent disability and for whom a letter from the United States Government or VA or its predecessor has been issued certifying total disability is exempt from taxation, if the veteran is a permanent resident of this state on January 1 of the tax year for which exemption is being claimed.
††††† 3.††††††† Hunting & Fishing License. A permanent state hunting and fishing license shall be issued, upon request, to any resident of the state, who is permanently & totally disabled and currently certified by a licensed physician of this state or the VA, or has been issued a valid identification card by the FDVA.
No license shall be required for military service personnel who are Florida residents while they are home on leave for periods of 30 days or less.
††††† 4.††††††††† Certification of Discharge or Separation. The Clerk of the Circuit Court shall record, without cost to the veteran, certificates of discharge or separation from the Armed Forces of the U.S.
††††† 5.††††††††† Disabled Veteran Motor Vehicle License Plate. A motor vehicle license place will be issued for use on any motor vehicle owned' or leased by a disabled veteran who has been a continuous resident of Florida for the last 5 years or has established a domicile. This is for 100% service-connected veterans. "DV" License Plates with "wheelchair emblems" are available for those veterans permanently confined to a wheelchair and who qualify for the . basic "DV" License Plate.
††††† 6.†††††††††† Ex-POW Motor Vehicle License Plate. A motor vehicle license plate will be issued upon application and proof of eligibility, for use on any motor vehicle not used for hire or commercial use, owned by a veteran who is a resident of Florida and was a Prisoner of War. Other plates include: Non-Citizen POW, National Guard or Reserve Member, Survivors of Pearl Harbor, Purple-Heart Medal Recipients and Medal of Honor Recipients.
††††† 7.†††††††† Driver's License. Any veteran discharged under conditions other than dishonorable from the Armed Forces who has been issued a valid identification card by the FDVA or has been determined by the VA or DoD to have a 100% total & permanent service connected disability and is qualified to obtain a Drivers License is exempt from fees. Some fees may apply.
††††† 8.†††††††††† Handicapped Toll Permit. Any handicap by a person who has a valid driver's license, who operates a vehicle specially equipped for use by the handicapped, and who is certified by a licensed physician or be the VA Adjudication Officer as being physically disabled and having permanent impairments which impair the person's ability to deposit coins in toll baskets shall be allowed to pass free through all toll' gates. A vehicle window sticker will be issued.
††††† 9.†††††††† Education for Children of Deceased or Disabled Florida Veterans. The State of Florida provides scholarships for dependent children of a veteran of the State of Florida, who died from a disease, or disability resulting from service during a period of war; or has a 100% service-connected disability as determined by the VA or DoD.
††††† 10.†††††† Preference in Appointment and Retention. The state and its political subdivisions shall give preference in appointment and retention in positions of employment to veterans who served during a wartime period and have been separated under honorable conditions, or are disabled veterans who have service-connected disabilities which are compensable. Contact Angel Lerma, Veteran's Out-Reach Representative, State Job & Benefits Office (located at South Florida Community College) for more information.
††††† 11.†††††† Occupations License Taxes.
††††† 12.†††††† Disabled Veterans Exemption from Certain License or Permit Fees.
††††† 13.†††††† County Veteran Service Officers. Veteran assistance is available through a statewide network of County Veteran Service Officers employed by local Boards of County Commissioners. All services are provided free of charge. Give us a call.
††††† 14.†††††† "Florida Salutes Veterans" License Plates. Can be purchased by any Florida resident in order to pay tribute to Florida veterans and provide funds for construction, operation, and maintenance of domiciliary and nursing homes for veterans in Florida.
††††† 15.†††††† Veterans' Domiciliary Home of Florida.
††††† 16.†††††† Veterans' Nursing Homes of Florida
Other Benefits Available
1. VA Domiciliary Care
2. Respite Nursing Home Care 3.† Fee Basis
4. Education Benefits (please contact Maria at South Florida Community College a call in the Finance Office for additional information. Maria is a VA School Certifying Official here in Highlands County).
5. Life Insurance Programs (for service-connected veterans and those wishing to extend their SGLI into VGLI or change beneficiaries)
6. VA Home Loan Guaranty (Certificate of Eligibility Application)
7. Discharge Review (for upgrades), Board of Corrections & request for records.
the plot allowance may be assigned to the state. Usually the funeral director will automatically apply for a plot allowance unless a state-owned veterans' cemetery is involved.
Cremation and Scientific Research
1.†††††††† Cremation is considered a burial. Regardless of-the disposition of the ashes, payment of a plot allowance is warranted as explained above.
2.†††††††† Donation of a body to a medical school for scientific research is considered a burial and the plot allowance is available.
An allowance of $300.00 may be paid to defray the cost of funeral and burial expenses for certain eligible veterans. When -a veteran dies of a service-connected disability, a burial benefit not to exceed $1500.00 is authorized in lieu of other burial benefits.
Transportation of Remains
1.†††††††† If the death occurs while traveling under authorization or while hospitalized by the VA, and in certain other circumstances, the cost of transporting the veteran's remains to the place of burial may be paid in addition to any other burial benefits.
2.†††††††† The VA may pay the cost of transporting (to the nearest national cemetery having available space) the remains of a deceased veteran who at the time of death had compensable service≠-connected disability or who died while admitted to a VA medical facility.
1.†††††††† A U.S. flag will be furnished by the VA to drape the casket of a deceased veteran who was discharged under other than dishonorable conditions and who:
a.†††††††† Served during wartime
b.†††††††† Served during Mexican Border Period (January 1, 1911- May 8, 1917)
c.†††††††† Served at least one enlistment during peacetime
d.†††††††† Served after January 31, 1955
APPLICATIONS CAN BE OBTAINED THROUGH OUR OFFICE AND MANY FUNERAL DIRECTORS KEEP FORMS AND MAKE APPLICATION ON BEHALF OF THE VETERAN'S FAMILY. FLAGS ARE OBTAINED FROM THE POST OFFICE.
Presidential Memorial Certificates
1.†††††††† A Presidential Memorial Certificate may be issued to the next-of-kin for any deceased wartime or peacetime veteran whose discharge was under conditions other than dishonorable or to the next-of-kin of members who at the time of death were members of the armed forces.
2.†††††††† When no Presidential Memorial Certificates is issued to next-of-kin, a request from a close friend or associate will be honored.
3.†††††††† A simple statement, or phone call , the VA Regional Office in St. Petersburg is sufficient to receive the certificate. Ensure your request clearly states the veteran's name, VA claim number, and the next-of-kin address of the next-of-kin where the certificate will be
mailed. I always send a copy the death certificate and of the discharge document (DD-214).
No unauthorized disclosures of information will be made, as custody of veteran's records are privileged and private.
a.†††††††† Any organization or member thereof or other person who, knowingly uses any name or address released from the U. S. Department of Veterans' Affairs for any purpose other than that for the purpose for which it was released shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined not more than $5000.00 in the case of a first offense and not more than $20,000 in the case of any subsequent offenses. U.S.C. 38, 5701
b.††††††† The records of the identity, diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment of any patient or subject, which is maintained (by the VA) in connection with the performance of any program or activity, which shall be CONFIDENTIAL and such records, may not be disclosed, unless expressly authorized.
c.††††††††††††††††† Contested claims - Representatives may only represent one of the parties ††††in the prosecution of a contested claim, or on which may reasonably become contested.
d.††††††††††††††††† Dual Representation - No organization may represent a Claimant who has ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††retained an attorney (or other accredited organization) as his/her designated representative.
e.†††††††† Civil Power of Attorney's and assigned Guardianships are NOT acceptable for VA matters. The VA works under the higher court of Federal jurisdiction. The VA can assign a fiduciary for someone in receipt of VA benefits that is incompetent (a letter from the recipients physician and possible visit from a VA Field Investigator is required).
Service Connected Disability Claims
1.†††††††† Five ways to establish that a disability is service-connected:
a.††††††††††† DIRECT -†††††† Condition was diagnosed during military service, and the condition continues to affect the individual's industrial capacity.
b.†††††††† AGGRAVATION - Condition existed prior to military service and was
††††††††††††††††††††† aggravated beyond normal progression during military service.
c.††††††††††† PRESUMPTIVE -††††† Radiation claims, Agent Orange claims, Persian Gulf Claims, certain disabilities, tropical diseases, and certain POW conditions. The veteran must have served 90 continuous days or more during a war period or after December 31, 1946.
d.†††††††† SECONDARY-††††††††††† The demonstration of a condition that is a result of, or linked to, an existing service-connected condition.
f.††††††††† INJURY AS A RESULT OF TREATMENT - A disease, injury, death or
the aggravation of an existing disease or injury occurs as a result of having submitted to an examination, medical or surgical treatment, or hospitalization under VA care.
As a veteran service officer acting on behalf of accredited organizations chartered by Congress and recognized by the VA for claims representation, Denise and I have assumed the responsibility for providing direct assistance to veterans, their dependents and survivors in claims for any veteran Federal or State benefits or services to which they may be entitled.
NSC (Improved) Pension - Death Pension
The Widow/er's (Improved) Pension is a benefit that can be applied for by the widow/er if the veteran had the military qualifications as with the above NSC Pension and the widow/er meets financial qualifications. The maximum pension amounts are listed below:
Surviving spouse with no dependents†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††$6,237
Surviving spouse with one child†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††$8,168
†(Veterans with additional children: add $1,586 to the limit for EACH child)
Housebound surviving spouse with no dependents†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† $7,625
Housebound surviving spouse with one dependent††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† $9,551
Surviving spouse who needs aid and attendance and no dependents††††††††††††††††† $9,973
Surviving spouse who needs aid and attendance and has one dep.††††††††††††††††††† $11,900
* Additional information can be found in the Compensation and Pension Benefits section of VAís Internet pages at www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/index.htm.
*Please note the above rates may have changed.
Checklist of documents needed to file claim
The following information is needed in order for Veteran's Services to file a claim for NSC Pension benefits on behalf of the veteran or his surviving dependent.
1.†††††††† Proof of military service (discharge or DD-214)
2.†††††††† Good copies of dependency documents, ALL marriages, divorces and birth certificates of dependent children.
3.†††††††† Social security numbers for applicant and all dependents.
4.†††††††† Private and/or other medical records that provide a diagnosis and prognosis of all claimed disabilities that affect the veterans' ability to earn a living.
5.†††††††† A printout of all medical expenses the applicant has paid for one year proceeding the date of application. Include continuing medical expenses such as health insurance and nursing home/ALF costs.
6.†††††††† Proof of ALL income including social security benefits, annuity, interest, sale of property. Proof of assets (not including primary residence).
NOTE: Single veteran's receiving NSC pension's AND are eligible for Medicaid AND admitted to a Medicaid approved nursing home/ALF (excluding State nursing homes) will have their pension reduced to a $90.00 per month effective the date Medicaid began. This $90.00 is to be placed in the veteran's personal account and used for personal needs.