A vet needs help following up on a benefits claim

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

Thanks for assisting me with my attempt to claim my veteran’s benefits. When the people from the VA in Washington called me I was not home to receive the call. Please contact the VA again for me.

Randy B
Via the internet

Dear Randy,

I received the following response from the VA:

We spoke with Mr. Bell today and also followed up with the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). A decision to allow his appeal has been made. That decision is in its final stages of processing. Once completed, a formal decision will be released to the Veteran and the file returned to the Winston-Salem RO to adjudicate claim. A BVA representative also made contact and advised him accordingly.

Shaft Notes

• If you are you a Veteran with a severe service-connected disability that affects your mobility or if you know someone who is, then, then you or the someone you know, may be eligible for the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant program that is administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The SAH program helps certain severely-disabled Veterans and Servicemembers purchase or construct an adapted home, or modify an existing home, to create a barrier-free-living environment. VA offers two grant programs: the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant and the Special Home Adaptation (SHA) grant.

The SAH grant can be used to purchase or modify a home so that it provides a barrier-free living environment that affords Veterans a higher level of independent living. Veterans and Servicemembers with certain service-connected disabilities may be entitled to a grant up to the current maximum of $67,555.

The SHA grant can be used to increase the mobility of eligible Veterans and Servicemembers throughout their home. Veterans and Servicemembers with specific service-connected disabilities may be entitled to this type of grant, up to the current maximum of $13,511.

In addition to these two grant types, a temporary residential grant may be available to SAH/SHA eligible Veterans and Servicemembers who are or will be temporarily residing in a home owned by a family member. The maximum amount available to adapt a family member’s home for the SAH grant is $29,657 and for the SHA grant it is $5,295. All grant amounts are indexed annually based on cost of construction, and the grant amounts will never decrease.

VA has staff located nationwide to assist individuals in applying for and receiving these grants. You can find more detailed information about qualifying disabilities here: http://benefits.va.gov/homeloans/adaptedhousing.asp, and you can find contact information for an SAH Agent in your area here: http://www.benefits.va.gov/HOMELOANS/contact_agents.asp.

Each Veteran’s housing/living needs are as unique as their physical disabilities. The SAH program provides hands-on, personalized, customized service to severely-disabled Veterans seeking home adaptations.

• The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller and Rep. Jackie Walorski recently introduced H.R. 4102, legislation that would make an award of VA benefits issued on or after the date of a veteran’s death payable to the veteran’s estate.

Under current law, only a veteran’s spouse, children under the age of 18, and parents are eligible to receive retroactive VA disability benefits compensation in the event of a veteran claimant’s death. Historically, approximately 2.6 percent of veterans with pending VA disability benefits compensation claims die while awaiting a claims decision, according to the department.

The bill was developed in response to the experience of Indianapolis veteran Shelton Hickerson and his daughter Sharon Hickerson Thurman. Shelton Hickerson filed a VA disability claim in 2000 that the department initially denied. After a more than a decade long appeal process, VA awarded Hickerson a 100 percent disability rating, with retroactive pay of $377,342 June 27, 2013. Unfortunately, Shelton Hickerson passed away the same day, and Sharon Hickerson was not eligible to receive the retroactive compensation because she was over the age of 18 and not otherwise dependent on her father.

This legislation would allow payments issued on the date of the veteran’s death to be awarded to the veteran’s estate, consistent with general principles of estate law.

After introducing the bill, Chairman Miller and Rep. Walorski issued the following statements:

“It‘s tragic enough that many veterans wait months and in some cases years while VA processes their claims and appeals. But the situation becomes heartbreaking when a veteran dies while waiting on the department to do its job. This bill would ensure that the Hickerson family and others like them receive the benefits their veteran dependents have earned and rightly deserve and eliminate the de facto penalty some families incur when their loved ones die while awaiting VA claims decisions.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

“Shelton Hickerson and his family deserved better. When our war fighters risk their lives for our nation and return home they should be immediately provided with proper benefits and care. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Mr. Hickerson, and has not been the case for many of our brave veterans. This legislation is a small way for us to bring some comfort to the families of veterans who are laid to rest before their VA claim is finalized.” – Rep. Jackie Walorski

• Congratulations to the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), on the celebration of their 85th anniversary on February 23.

MOAA was founded in Los Angeles, Calif. on Feb. 23, 1929 with 63 members because the founders believed retired officers as well as their families would benefit by joining together. It was called The Retired Officers Association.

In January 2003, the Association changed its name to the Military Officers Association of America to reflect its emphasis on serving all military personnel, regardless of active duty or retired status.

“Though an officers association, MOAA takes great pride in serving all military personnel, regardless of rank or branch of service,” MOAA President Vice Adm Norb Ryan said. “We are also proud of the fact that we have 409 organized autonomous local chapters affiliated with the national organization.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.