Veterans' benefits discussed at senior center
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Sep. 27, 2011
A large group of veterans gathered at the Quinebaug Valley Senior Center in Brooklyn on Sept. 21 to hear Ed Burke speak about VA benefits. Burke, who is U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney's field representative for Connecticut's second Congressional district, helps veterans in these 65 or so towns navigate a variety of federal, state and local benefits. He spoke for more than an hour, taking individual questions after his presentation.
The Veteran's Administration offers a wide assortment of benefits, and these are listed on its website (www.va.gov), and in the 2011 edition of the "Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors." For those who find the site and the pamphlet daunting to decipher, there are service officers and representatives, like Burke, whose job it is to assist vets to find their way through the maze of regulations and requirements.
“The highest number of people being served by the VA right now are Vietnam-era veterans,” said Burke. “They are the ones with the most questions, because they are the highest number of current users of the system.”
Burke made sure to point out that any veteran who served in-country or in the brown-water Navy in Vietnam was eligible for medical treatment of a host of presumptive medical conditions. The conditions are associated with side effects of Agent Orange, and as such, do not require treatment documentation. The conditions often don't show up for 20 to 30 years after the exposure, Burke said. Those conditions include type 2 diabetes, prostate and respiratory cancers, Parkinson's and ischemic heart disease. See www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/diseases.asp#veterans for a full list of conditions. “Be aware of what these conditions are and get screened for them,” Burke advised.
Not all veterans are eligible for VA health benefits. Veterans who served in active military, naval, or air service and were honorably discharged or released are eligible. Reservist or National Guard members called to active duty by a Federal Order who completed the full call-up period are also eligible, provided the order was for something other than training purposes.
“The most important thing is to register for health benefits,” Burke stressed. Applying for benefits can be done in person at a VA medical center, by downloading an application form, filling it out and mailing it in, or by filing electronically. “If you take it to the medical center in person,” Burke said, “it's the best way to make sure it gets done.” If there are problems with how the form is filled out, or if the form in incomplete, you can correct it right away, he said.
If a veteran mails a form or sends it electronically and it is incomplete or incorrect, it can add months to the registration time. “If there's a problem,” Burke said, “it can take a long time. I'm a firm believer in going in person to register for health benefits. They'll review the form and get it done then and there.”
For veterans who want treatment for a condition they believe originated in the service, Burke offered cautionary advice. If it is a condition that wasn't treated while in the service, it would be hard to prove VA benefits should cover it now. “If you don't have documentation relating to your military service, it's very difficult to prove,” he said.
VA benefits are dependent on the day you file your claim, Burke said. If a Vietnam veteran files a claim for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, the VA will pay him back to the day he filed the claim. They will not pay for anything prior to that claim filing.
He also advised vets to use their benefit card yearly, in order to stay active in the system. Burke uses his for his yearly flu shot.
Burke took questions on burial, pension and survivor benefits. He directed a vet to contact the assessor in his town to inquire about a tax break on property taxes. He suggested a vet register for benefits to cover a hearing loss he suffered while serving with an artillery unit.
Burke holds office hours at Quinebaug Valley Community College on the first and third Thursday of each month from 2 to 4 p.m. Call Courtney's office at 860-886-0139 to set up an appointment. Veterans can also seek help from service officers at a variety of service organizations such as the VFW or American Legion.
The Quinebaug Valley Senior Center has a copy of the publication "Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents" for use at the center.
For more information, go to www.ct.gov/ctva, call Robert Burke at 860-886-0139, the veteran's service officer in Norwich at 860-887-9162 or the veteran's information line at 866-928-8387.