For detailed information about California veteran benefits, click here.
For more information about federal veteran benefits, click here.
Veteran Benefits, Explained
Below are benefits available to veterans like Pagan, none of which have expiration dates:
Disability Compensation: The USDVA pays monthly compensation to veterans with disabilities incurred or aggravated during military service.
Disability Pension: This income-based benefit is paid to veterans with honorable war-time service who are permanently and totally disabled from disabilities not connected to military service, or who are 65 or older.
Medical: The USDVA provides a range of healthcare services to veterans, including treatment for military sexual trauma, and for conditions possibly related to exposure to Agent Orange, ionizing radiation, and other environmental hazards in the Persian Gulf. Generally, veterans must be enrolled in the USDVA’s healthcare system to receive care.
Home Loans: Veterans with qualifying service are eligible for both USDVA and CalVet home loans.
Veterans Homes: Veterans who are ages 55 and older and discharged from active military service under honorable conditions are eligible to apply for admission in a CalVet Veterans Home. The age requirement is waived for disabled or homeless veterans needing long-term care.
College Fee Waiver for Dependents: Veteran dependents who meet eligibility requirements may receive a waiver of mandatory system-wide tuition and fees at any State of California community college, California State University or University of California campus.
Survivor Benefits: Some benefits are available to surviving spouses and dependent children of veterans who were killed during active duty or who were killed after leaving the military. Click here.
California is home to 1.9 million veterans, 63 percent of whom are 55 years old and older. Veterans’ benefits, available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) and the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet), can help veterans of any age, but may be especially important to those nearing or in retirement.
Unfortunately, only about 15 percent of eligible California veterans take advantage of their compensation and pension benefits, and less than 40 percent use their healthcare benefits.
Mike Pagan was only 20 when he enlisted, spending four years in the Navy and two in the Reserves, deployed and assigned to a carrier group operating in the South China Sea. Pagan worked storing ammunition, securing magazines and replenishing supplies. This involved dismantling copious quantities of materials and bombs. After retraining in special operations, he was deployed on a small class ship operating off the coast of Vietnam, north and south of Da Nang, as troop support and rescue.
One day Pagan was hit on the head by a heavy piece of metal packing material tossed by a shipmate. “My head hurt for a few days,” he said, “but I didn’t give it much more thought after that.” Now, at 63, Pagan suffers from repeated ear infections and loss of hearing. He wonders whether his health issues are related to the injury he sustained on the carrier that day, and wishes he had applied for his health benefits when he got out of the service.
But if veterans like Pagan contact their County Veteran Service Office (CVSO) for help, it’s not too late to obtain benefits.
Military History Crucial to Diagnoses
CalVet wants medical professionals, service providers and caregivers to know that an individual’s military history can significantly affect their health. For example, Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange (source)—the toxic herbicide sprayed over the jungles of Southeast Asia between 1962 and 1971—now have increased rates of prostate, respiratory and other cancers; lymphoma; Type 2 diabetes; ischemic heart disease; nerve damage; and digestive and skin disorders.
There are 14 diseases and disorders (source) that the USDVA presumes to be caused by Agent Orange exposure when diagnosed in boots-onthe-ground veterans and certain other Vietnam veteran groups.
Veterans of every era, like Pagan, frequently suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus caused by loud or sustained noises associated with combat and other military service. And many veterans struggle with service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder or with mental health issues related to traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma.
“It would be easy for a doctor to overlook Agent Orange exposure as the cause of a patient’s Type 2 diabetes when genetic and lifestyle risk factors are present. The post traumatic stress disorder at the root of a veteran’s chronic depression could also be missed,” said CalVet Secretary Peter Gravett.
“That’s why it’s so important for veterans of every era to make doctors aware of their military history when being evaluated, diagnosed and treated,” he added.
CalVet encourages all medical professionals, service providers and caregivers to do the following: ask patients whether or not they have served in the military; become familiar with diseases and disorders that commonly affect veterans; and consider a patient’s veteran status when evaluating symptoms, making diagnoses and recommending treatment.
Vets Confused Over Coverage
Confusion and lack of knowledge about benefits are two reasons veterans don’t file for their benefits. Veterans may be entitled to monetary and healthcare benefits, including vocational rehabilitation services and free assistive devices (such as eyeglasses and hearing aids), through the USDVA.
Recently Pagan contacted CalVet. The department is helping him determine the veteran health and disability benefits he may be entitled to, including access to free hearing aids. California veterans who have been diagnosed with any health condition that could be serviceconnected are encouraged to contact their CVSO for assistance. To find the nearest office, visit www.cacvso.org, click on “Contact Us,” then on the county of residence.
Carolyn Ballou is the marketing, communications and outreach specialist for the California Department of Veterans Affairs, Sacramento, Calif.
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the May/June, 2012, issue of Aging Today, ASA’s bi-monthly newspaper covering issues in aging research, practice and policy nationwide. ASA members receive Aging Today as a member benefit; non-members may purchase subscriptions at our online store.
Photo: President of Sonoma County Vet Connect Richard Jones (left) and Gil Taijeron prep for a charity dinner last December in Santa Rosa, CA.
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