VA Home Loan Milestones

You have to wonder how many times in life we pass up tremendous opportunities to progress for temerity. Temerity is akin to fear—we tend to fear the unknown. How many times are we robbed of significant advancement because we lack understanding or because we hesitate for the unknown?

Using your Veterans or military service entitlement, you have the chance to get into your own home. To most people, the task of getting into a home seems complex, stressful, and distant. It will surprise you to know that the process of qualifying for a VA home loan is simple and direct.

The truth is, getting into your home is a huge event.  Your journey should be one of hope and happiness. The experts at LowVARates not only know how to keep focus on the joy of the journey, they have the experience to guide you through the process to its completion.

Keeping it simple, then, here are the steps to the VA Loan Process:

  1. Prequalify with LowVARates.

The security of any adventure is in knowing you have a trusted partner. Finding experienced VA loan specialists is half the battle. The collective experience of the loan specialists at LowVARates is a decided advantage on your journey to home ownership. Don’t allow your inexperience or doubt be a factor here. We specialize in helping you find a way.

Start by giving us a call. Our loan specialists know exactly the information needed to qualify for a home.  If the time is not presently right, we can tell you the steps to take so that you will qualify.

  1. Getting Pre-approved.

LowVARates will take your personal information, and with professional precision determine if you can qualify for a veterans mortgage loan.  We have a long history of helping homeowners qualify for their home loan. You can be confident that United Military Mortgage will have your loan package filled out and representing you to your greatest advantage.

The VA has specific requirements for you to meet. So expect to do your work.  We can help tee it up for you, but the swing is still yours to take.

Here are some of the documents you will need to provide:

  • Current pay stubs.
  • Tax returns and W2s
  • Employment history
  • Bank/Investment statements
  • Evidence of real estate assets
  1. Find Your Home.

You might have your home already picked out. Or, you might not know where to even start. LowVARates can help here as well, helping you find a reputable realtor who will listen to you and help you locate the property and neighborhood you want to live in.

  1. Make an Offer.

When you find that perfect home, you will make an offer on the home and negotiate a contract with the seller. Because we understand the VA home loan market and process, we can help you arrange the contract so you do not need any money down, if that is how you want to proceed.

Because VA loans do not require mortgage insurance, you can qualify for more home on your budget. We will help you structure the details to your greatest possible advantage.

  1. Processing and Closing.

The VA requires homes to be ready for move in.  The burden to have the home move-in ready lies with the seller. The person that determines move-in ready is the appraiser.  The appraiser’s job is to make sure the home is to verify the value of the home and to make sure it is in good repair. The appraisal protects you and protects your lender.

Once you are under contract to purchase your home, the loan documentation goes to an underwriter for review.  The underwriter verifies financial information and all other required documentation; he also ensures the loan meets VA requirements.

When your loan is approved, a closing date is scheduled, where you will review all information and sign the required documents. This will finalize your VA home loan and you can then take ownership. What a banner day!

VA Loan Assumptions for a VA-Eligible Parent’s Home

VA loan assumptions are a major gray area for many borrowers. There’s not a lot of widespread understanding on this topic, and yet to some it is one of the most advantageous things about the VA loan program. A common question about VA loan assumptions comes from the children of parents who used their VA benefits to purchase their home. Often, the parents pass away before the home is fully paid off, and one of the children inherits the home, which is financed with a VA mortgage. The child wants to know if they can assume the VA loan, who they can contact if that is the case, and what fees to expect in order to assume it. The first clarification is that yes, VA loans are assumable, but has to be done in coordination with the lender, and may be required to get VA approval in order for the assumption to take place.

VA Pamphlet 26-7 provides guidance on VA loan assumptions and what is required for them. It states that for any loans after March 1st of 1988, the transferring (or assumption) of a loan needs to be approved by the lien holder if they have automatic authority. If the lien holder doesn’t have automatic authority, then they have to send it up to the VA for the underwriting process. From the Pamphlet: “Transfers of ownership on properties securing loans for which commitments were made on or after March 1, 1988, must have the prior approval of the loan holder or its authorized servicing agent if either of them have automatic authority. If neither the holder nor the servicer has automatic authority, the servicer must submit a credit package to VA for underwriting.”

The Pamphlet also provides instructions to the lender about how to carry out the VA loan assumption. For a seller trying to have someone assume their loan, they must apply for approval before any transaction takes place. If the lien holder has automatic authority, then the lien holder assesses the application and makes sure that the request complies with all of the requirements for a VA loan to be assumed. Where the lien holder has no automatic authority, the VA takes over. The text from the Pamphlet: “A seller must apply for approval of the transfer prior to completing the sale. Servicers and holders with automatic authority must examine the application to assess compliance with the provisions of 38 U.S.C. 3714. VA will make the determination in a case where neither the servicer nor the holder has automatic authority, following receipt of a complete application package from the servicer.”

For the loan to be assumed, it needs to be current (on track with its payments). If it’s not current, it needs to be brought up to being current before the assumption can take place. Also, the person that will be taking over the loan needs to have sufficient credit to qualify. While it may not always be the case, it is always safe to assume that the new borrower needs to be in a credit situation that would allow them to make a new purchase of a home for the same value as the loan they are assuming. Additional restrictions on or requirements for new borrowers assuming a loan may vary lender to lender, but will always center around making sure that the chances of default on the loan do not increase with the assumption. If you’re considering assuming a loan, or letting someone assume your VA loan, make an appointment with your lender and discuss their expectations for a VA loan assumption. You’ll be glad you did.

If the assumption is able to take place (it’s approved by either the lender or the VA, depending on if the lender has automatic authority), there will be fees associated with the assumption. The fee can be collected in advance of the assumption, and is dependent on whether the lender has automatic authority. The fee may vary slightly from lender to lender and even from assumption to assumption, but the maximum fee that can be charged by a lender with automatic authority is $300 plus what the credit report actually costed. If the lender has no automatic authority, then the maximum fee that can be charged is $250 plus the actual cost of the credit report.

VA Fiduciary Program

There might come a time in a veteran’s life where handling all of the benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs becomes a challenge, whether it is due to a disability, or due to old age.  In cases where a veteran cannot manage their own benefits, the VA provides a benefit to help manage the others.  The purpose of the VA Fiduciary Program is to protect veterans and beneficiaries who are unable to manage their VA benefits through the appointment and oversight of a fiduciary.  A fiduciary is a trustee, someone who will manage the benefits in the veteran’s behalf.

If a veteran has been determined unable to manage their VA benefits, the VA will conduct a field examination to appoint a fiduciary to assist them.  The VA field examination will be scheduled for the purpose of appointing a fiduciary to assist the veteran in managing their benefits.  During the field examination, the veteran should have certain information available for review by the examiner.  The veteran should provide photo identification, the source and amount of all monthly bills and recurring expenses, any income they receive, a list of all current medications, and the name, phone number, and address for their primary doctor and next of kin.  The veteran should also provide a list of all assets, to include bank accounts, owned property, stocks, bonds, life insurance, burial plans, etc.

After the examination has taken place, and the VA knows all that needs to be taken care of, the selection process for a fiduciary begins.  The veteran can choose or recommend someone to serve as their fiduciary.  During the selection process, the VA will first seek to qualify the individual the veteran chooses to serve.  The fiduciary selection is based on an assessment of the qualifications of the proposed fiduciary.  Some of the individuals that a veteran might consider when seeking a fiduciary could be a spouse or family member, a court-appointed fiduciary, another interested part, or a professional fiduciary.  An assessment of the qualifications of a proposed fiduciary includes, but is not limited to the willingness to serve and abide by all agreements, an interview with a VA representative, credit report review, an inquiry into the criminal background, and interviews with character witnesses.

The determination that the veteran is unable to manage their VA benefits does not affect their veterans non-VA finances, or their right to vote or contract.  They have the right to appeal the VA’s decision finding that they are unable to manage their VA benefits.  The veteran also has the right to appeal VA’s selection of the fiduciary.  If the veteran disagrees with the VA on either of these matters, they may appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals by telling the VA they disagree with the decision that was made and want the Board to review it, or the veteran can give the VA evidence that they do not already have that may lead them to change their decision.

The veteran may also request to have their ability to manage their VA benefits be reevaluated, or to have a new fiduciary appointed, at any time.  If the veteran wishes a reevaluation, they must submit a request in writing with any supporting medical evidence to the Regional Office of jurisdiction.

To begin an appeal of the VA’s decision, the veteran must write a letter to the VA telling them that he or she disagrees with the decision made, and wishes to appeal.  This letter is called the “Notice of Disagreement.” The veteran may also submit any additional evidence in support of their appeal.

When the letter is received, the veterans case will be reviewed, and any additional evidence provided will be considered.  If the VA changes their decision, they will notify the veteran in writing.  If the VA makes no changes in their decision, they will send the veteran a Statement of the Case, which describes the facts, laws, regulations, and reasons the VA used to make their decision.  The VA will also send the veteran a VA Form 9, “Appeal to Board of Veterans’ Appeals,” which must be completed and returned to the VA by the veteran if they still choose to continue their appeal.  Once the Statement is sent to the veteran, they have one year to submit the Form and continue the appeal. After one year, the VA’s decision is final.  If the veteran continues the appeal, it will be brought before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, where you will have the right to a hearing.  After that, whatever decision the Board makes will be final.

 

Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance

Life insurance is an important thing to have, as it prepares everyone for the possibility of dying and leaving loved ones behind.  Life insurance gives more peace of mind because you can rest easy, knowing that if you were to die, your family and loved ones would be helped.  While there are many different places that offer life insurance, the best place for a servicemember or a veteran to receive it from is the Department of Veteran Affairs.  As part of the VA’s mission to serve servicemembers, veterans and their families, the VA provides very good life insurance.  The VA life insurance program was developed to provide financial security for your family given the extraordinary risks involved in military service.

Most servicemember’s should already have insurance from the VA.  This insurance is called the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI).  SGLI is a low-cost group term life insurance program strictly for servicemembers.  On top of being covered while providing service to our country, the coverage can be extended for up to two years if the servicemember is totally disabled at separation from service.

The great thing about the SGLI coverage is that it is automatic for most people in the service of their country.  Those who are automatically covered are active duty members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, Commissioned members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), cadets or midshipmen of the U.S. military academies, members, cadets, or midshipmen of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) engaged in authorized training and practice cruises, members of the Ready Reserve or National Guard that are scheduled to perform at least 12 periods of inactive training per year, and servicemembers who volunteer for mobilization category in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).

Those servicemembers who are automatically issued the SGLI are issued the maximum SGLI coverage.  SGLI is low-cost, and as was previously mentioned, if the servicemember falls into any of the automatic categories, he or she are automatically enrolled and do not need to apply for anything.  They can make changes to the SGLI coverage if they wish to not receive the maximum coverage.  For example, servicemembers can decline SGLI coverage, select a lesser amount than maximum coverage, designate beneficiaries, and/or make other changes.

The maximum coverage that the SGLI covers is up to $400,000, with a minimum of $50,000.  As you are searching for the right amount, note that the coverage is only available in increments of $50,000.  Servicemembers who are covered receive 120 days of free coverage from their date of separation from service.  Part-time coverage is also provided to Reserve members who do not qualify for full-time coverage.  It is important to note that members covered part-time do not receive 120 days of free coverage.

If the servicemember is totally disabled at the time of separation, or unable to work, coverage can be extended for up to two years through the SGLI Disability Extension.  At the end of the extension period, the servicemember would automatically become eligible for Veterans’ Group Life Insurance, subject to premium payments.

SGLI is considered low-cost, and if you have SGLI coverage, you pay a monthly premium that is automatically deducted from your base pay.  The current premium rate for the SGLI is 6.5 cents per $1,000 of insurance.  So for example, if the servicemember signed up for the minimum of $50,000, that servicemember would only pay $3.25 a month, plus $1.00 per month for Traumatic Injury Protection coverage, which the premium includes.

Eventually, all servicemembers end their career in the military and become veterans.  When this happens, they will qualify to receive the Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI). Unlike the SGLI, the VGLI is not automatic and you have to apply to convert your SGLI to VGLI.  You only have one year and 120 days from discharge to apply to convert life insurances.  Any veterans who submit their application within 240 days of their discharge are not required to submit evidence of good health, while those veterans who apply after 240 day of their discharge are required to answer questions about their health and provide evidence.

Although the VA provides the option to convert their SGLI into VGLI, it is not required.  The veteran is free to choose a commercial policy if they so desire.  To find out more about VGLI and converting it to other life insurances, visit benefits.va.gov.

 

What Goes On in the Claims Process?

There are eight distinct steps that most claims for disability compensation follow. These phases may vary in time depending on the complexity of the claim, the amount of evidence that must be gathered to support the claims, and the type of evidence. You are strongly encouraged to submit as much evidence as possible with your claim to help minimize processing time. Take a look into having your healthcare provider fill out a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ), as those tend to speed up the claims process.  Remember that the more evidence you have, the less time it will take the claims processors to recognize your need for compensation. This article is going to go over those eight steps that most claims go through before they are fully processed.

The first step is for you claim to be received.  When your claim has been received by the VA, if you applied online with VONAPP Direct Connect, you should see receipt in your list of Open Claims within one hour. If you applied through the U.S. mail, please allow mailing time plus one week for us to process and record receipt of your claim. Please not that if you apply and send in a claim online, it is processed much faster than using paper.

Step 2 is when your claim is being reviewed.  Your claim has been assigned to a Veterans Service Representative and is being reviewed to determine if additional evidence is needed. If the VA does not need any additional information, your claim will move directly to the Preparation for Decision phase, which is Step 5.

Step 3 is gathering more evidence.  The Veterans Service Representative will request evidence from the required sources. Requests for evidence may be made of you, a medical professional, a government agency, or another authority. It is common for claims to return to this phase, should additional evidence be required.

Step 4 is reviewing the new evidence.  The VA will have received all needed evidence. If, upon review, it is determined that more evidence is required, the claim will be sent back to the Gathering of Evidence phase, or Step 3.

Step 5 is preparation for a decision.  The Veterans Service Representative has recommended a decision, and is preparing required documents detailing that decision. If more evidence is required, the claim will be sent back in the process for more information or evidence.

Step 6 is where more waiting happens as the claim is pending decision approval.  The recommended decision is reviewed, and a final award approval is made. If it is determined that more evidence or information is required, the claim will be sent back in the process for more information or evidence.

Step7 is preparation for notification.  Your entire claim decision packet is prepared for mailing, with detailed descriptions of why you are or are not receiving compensation.

When you reach Step 8 that means it is complete!  The VA has sent a decision packet to you by U.S. mail. The packet includes details of the decision or award. Please allow standard mailing time for your packet to arrive before contacting a VA call center.

The length of time it takes to complete a claim depends on several factors, such as the type of claim filed, complexity of your disability or disabilities, the number of disabilities you claim, and the availability of evidence needed to decide your claim.

You can track the status of your claim by registering for eBenefits atwww.ebenefits.va.gov. You can also visit VA’sASPIRE web site. Here you can find the average processing days for the regional office that is working on your claim. To find the average processing days for your state:

·        Find your state on the map, place your cursor within the state and click

·        This will open the Veterans Benefits Administration Aspire Benefits site. Click “Enter”

·        You should see a split table. On the left table click on “Compensation”

·        This will expand the table. Approximately five rows down is “Rating Claims Processing Time”

·        Follow that row to the right until you locate the cell located within the column of your regional office.

·        The number you see is the average processing days to complete a claim that requires a disability rating. The average is based on completed claims since October 1 in a given fiscal year.

 

Submitting Evidence to Receive Compensation

To receive any type of compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs, you must first submit all relevant evidence in your possession and/or provide information sufficient to enable VA to obtain all relevant evidence not in your possession. This included as part of your application should be your discharge or separation papers (DD214 or equivalent), your service treatment records (if they are in your possession), and medical evidence (doctor and hospital reports).

The VA established the Fully Developed Claim Program to expeditiously process claims certified by the claimant or his/her representative as meeting the Fully Developed Claim criteria. In order for you to participate in the Fully Developed Claim Program, you must obtain the relevant service treatment and personnel records and provide them to VA.

If VA decides your claim before one year from the date it is received, you will still have the remainder of the one-year period to submit additional information or evidence necessary to support your claim. For this program, VA will only obtain service treatment records and Federal treatment records when you identify them.

As a standard claim, VA is responsible for getting relevant records from any Federal agency that you adequately identify and authorize VA to obtain.  VA will make every reasonable effort to obtain relevant records not held by a Federal agency that you adequately identify and authorize VA to obtain. These may include privately held evidence and information you tell us about (such as records from a private doctor or hospital) and/or records from State or local governments or current or former employers.  VA will provide a medical examination for you, or get a medical opinion, if determined it is necessary to make a claims decision.

In November 2000, Congress passed the Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) to define what VA’s responsibilities are in assisting claimants in obtaining evidence to support a claim and also to define the responsibilities of the claimant.  The VA’s responsibilities to the claimant include obtaining relevant records from any Federal agency. This may include records from the military, VA Medical Centers (including private facilities where VA authorized treatment), or the Social Security Administration. They must also provide the claimant with a medical examination, or obtain a medical opinion, if determined it is necessary to decide the claim.

The Claimant’s responsibilities include obtaining relevant records not held by a Federal agency. This may include records from State or local governments, private doctors and hospitals, or current or former employers. VA may assist in obtaining these records.  They must also provide enough information to VA so that records may be requested.

For example, a veteran has filed a claim for disability compensation and, on the application, indicated treatment from a private doctor and an award of social security disability. In this case, VA would be responsible in obtaining the Social Security records and would assist in obtaining the private physician records, but ultimate responsibility in obtaining the private records would be with the veteran.

If the veteran would really like to speed up the processing of compensation and pension claims, they should fill out the Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs).  DBQs are downloadable forms for Veterans to use in the disability evaluation process.  DBQs allow veterans and servicemembers to have more control over their disability claims process by giving them  the option of completing an examination with their own healthcare provide instead of at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility.

DBQs enable private healthcare providers to capture important information needed by VA to accurately evaluate and promptly decide Veterans’ claims for benefits.  More than 70 DBQs are available that use check boxes and standardized language to streamline the process. DBQs average about five pages in length. Veterans are responsible for any fees their private provider may charge for completing a DBQ.

The DBQ process involves four steps.  First you must access the form online and download it.  Once downloaded, have your healthcare provider complete the form.  Save a copy specifically for your records, and submit the form to the VA.

The use of DBQs are an important example of the initiatives that have been taken by the Veterans Benefits Administration to provide better service to the veterans and to eliminate the backlog.  When you apply for compensation, it will help greatly to use a DBQ.

Receiving Compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs disability provides monthly benefits to veterans in recognition of the effects of disabilities, diseases, or injuries received or aggravated during active military service. The program also provides monthly payments to surviving spouses, dependent children, and dependent parents in recognition of the economic loss caused by a veteran’s death during military service or, after discharge from military service, as a result of a service-connected disability.  The following is a summary of the VA’s disability compensation programs.

Disability Compensation is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to veterans with disabilities that are the result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. The benefit amount is graduated according to the degree of the veteran’s disability on a scale from 10 percent to 100 percent (in increments of 10 percent). Compensation may also be paid for disabilities that are considered related or secondary to disabilities occurring in service and for disabilities presumed to be related to circumstances of military service, even though they may arise after service. Generally, the degrees of disability specified are also designed to compensate for considerable loss of working time from exacerbations or illnesses.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a tax-free monetary benefit generally payable to a surviving spouse, child, or parent of Servicemembers who died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, or to survivors of veterans who died from their service-connected disabilities. Parents DIC is an income-based benefit for parents who were financially dependent on a servicemember or veteran who died from a service-related cause.

Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is an additional tax-free benefit that can be paid to Veterans, their spouses, surviving spouses and parents. For Veterans, Special Monthly Compensation is a higher rate of compensation paid due to special circumstances such as the need of aid and attendance by another person or by specific disability, such as loss of use of one hand or leg. For spouses and surviving spouses, this benefit is commonly referred to as aid and attendance and is paid based on the need of aid and attendance by another person.

Veterans may be eligible for other types of disability compensation once a disability has been determined to be service connected. Special VA disability compensation programs include: individual unemployability, automobile allowance, clothing allowance, prestabilization, hospitalization, convalescence, dental, and birth defects.  Each program has their own special circumstances.  For example, the VA may provide compensation for injuries incurred or aggravated while receiving care from VA, such as medical treatment or vocational rehabilitation.

Automobile Allowance is a program where the VA may provide veterans with a one-time allowance to purchase a new or used car to accommodate a service-connected disability. This benefit is available to Veterans with certain severe service-connected disabilities, such as loss of, or permanent loss of use of, a hand or foot. This benefit can also be used to purchase adaptive equipment. There is also a Clothing Allowance.  The VA may provide an annual clothing allowance to veterans, who use a prosthetic or orthopedic device (including a wheelchair) because of a service-connected disability, or has a service-connected skin condition and uses a medication that causes irreparable damage to outer garments.

Some of the many medical programs are the Birth Defects and Spina Bifida program, where the VA may provide a tax-free monetary allowance to children with Spina Bifida or certain birth defects born to women who served in the Republic of Vietnam or served in or near the demilitarization zone in Korea during certain time periods.  Dental benefits are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) according to law. In some instances, VA is authorized to provide extensive dental care, while in other cases treatment may be limited.

VA may grant a temporary 100 percent disability compensation rating to recover from surgery or immobilization of a joint by a cast without surgery for a service-connected disability.  VA may also grant a temporary 100% disability compensation rating to a Veteran who is hospitalized for more than 21 days for a service-connected disability.

There are so many programs and compensations, each made specifically to meet the needs of the veterans who served our country.  Spread the word to others about the programs, so that veterans can receive compensation.

Fully Developed Claims

The Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program is an optional new initiative that offers servicemembers, veterans, and survivors of both faster decisions from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) on compensation, pension, and survivor benefit claims.  Veterans, servicemembers, and survivors simply submit all relevant records in their possession, and those records which are easily obtainable, such as private medical records, at the time they make their claim and certify that they have no further evidence to submit. VA can then review and process the claim more quickly.

There are many types of claims for disability compensation. For example, if you’re filing a VA claim for the very first time, you have an original claim. A reopened claim means you have new and material evidence and you want VA to reconsider a claim it once denied. There are also new claims, secondary claims, and special claims.

To learn more about which type of claim you may have and the evidence and forms you need with your submission, view the Claims and Evidence page on the VA website. Your claim must meet all the applicable requirements listed to be considered for the FDC program, and each claim is unique.

Veterans may file an FDC for disability compensation for a few reasons, including an injury, disability, or condition believed to have occurred or been aggravated by military service, or a condition caused or aggravated by an existing service-related condition.

Servicemembers may use the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program at eBenefits.va.gov to submit a Fully Developed Claim before discharge.  The BDD program is available nationwide to all servicemembers on full-time active duty, including members of the National Guard, Reserve, and Coast Guard.  Servicemembers who do not meet the BDD criteria or have 1-59 days remaining in service should submit a Quick Start claim on eBenefits.va.gov, which allows a servicemember to submit a claim for disability compensation prior to separation, retirement, or release from active duty or demobilization.  Not only will the servicemember receive faster service in processing the claim due to the FDC, but the claim will be processed even sooner by the time they are discharged.

Veterans and their families and survivors may also file pension or dependency and indemnity compensation (survivor) claims.

You may be wondering, is it really that much faster to use an FDC?  Why use it?  FDC puts you in control, and it’s faster and risk-free.  By filing an FDC, veterans, servicemembers and survivors take charge of their claim by providing all the evidence at once. By then certifying that there is no more evidence, VA can issue a decision faster.

File an FDC without risk. Participation will not affect the attention your claim receives from qualified VA rating staff or the benefits to which you’re entitled. If VA determines other records exist and are required to decide a claim, VA will simply remove the claim from the FDC program and process it through the traditional claims process. Once you initiate your FDC, you’ll have up to one year to complete it. Should VA approve your claim, you’ll be paid back to the day you initiated your claim.

The best way to file an FDC is electronically at eBenefits.va.gov. Once you log on to your account, VA recommends you appoint an accredited Veterans Service Officer to help you initiate your claim, gather the required medical records and evidence, and submit your claim. If you don’t yet have an eBenefits.va.gov account, register today.

If you prefer to file your FDC by paper, complete VA Form 21-526EZ and visit your local regional office. While there, you can appoint an accredited Veterans Service Officer to help you prepare and submit your claim. You can also appoint your accredited Veterans Service Officer online at eBenefits.va.gov.

To prepare for your FDC, register for an eBenefits.va.gov account.  Next, appoint an accredited Veterans Service Officer who can provide free, expert assistance.  Gather relevant documents, such as private medical records. While VA will obtain Federal records on your behalf, such as your DD-214 or service medical records, submitting them, if you have them will save time. If you believe there is not a notation in your service record describing your disability, submit letters from friends or those you served with that tell us about the facts of your claim (“buddy statements”).

Initiate your claim at eBenefits.va.gov or call 1-800-827-1000 for assistance.

 

 

The Little Known Veterans Pension

Problems with a Veterans Affairs benefit have created a scam industry and left thousands of seniors ignorant of a pension they are entitled to receive, veterans advocates and congressional investigators say.  Many families are unaware of the pension for ailing combat veterans and their dependents, footing the bill for their care as up to $24,239 a year for each veteran sits unused. Advocates blame poor outreach by the Veterans Affairs Department, a massive federal agency that wields $127 billion each year.

Families that do know about the Aid and Attendance pension, sometimes called the widows’ pension, find themselves confronted with daunting paperwork. The applications, once submitted to one of three centralized processing offices, can take more than a year to approve.  Lisa Fitter spent 14 months seeking a pension for her mother-in-law, the widow of a World War II veteran, who suffered a massive stroke in May. The Fitters have struggled to provide 24-hour home care, and they pay an aide $15 to shower her each day.

“There is no excuse when you’re dealing with a 96-year-old woman,” said Fitter, 47, a Wellington Realtor. “She could have died.”

A spokesman for the VA told The New York Times in September that 38,076 veterans and 38,685 spouses were granted an Aid and Attendance pension in 2011. That year 1.7 million World War II veterans were alive and eligible for the pension.

Since December, hundreds of thousands have died, but more Korean War veterans, who number more than 2 million, will become eligible. The issue has particular resonance in Florida, where 187,900 World War II veterans reside, according to Veterans Affairs. The Census reports that about 32,846 Korean and World War II veterans live in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The benefit is a kind of last thank you for low-income veterans — or their spouses or dependent children — who are older than 65 and rely on others for daily care. They must have been a member of the Armed Forces at least one day during wartime and need not have been injured in combat.  On average, veterans received $9,669 in 2011, and their survivors received $6,209, according to a federal report published this year.

Critics have blasted the program from all sides. They say Veterans Affairs does little to advertise the pension in a deliberate attempt to keep the cost down and to relieve backlog.

Meanwhile, state and local veterans officials said they give presentations, set up tables and distribute information through organizations such as the American Legion. The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs distributes a benefits guide — but Aid and Attendance is conspicuously absent from it.

The dearth of education has led to other problems, as well. A parasitic industry of private “pension poachers,” as they’re known, has sprung up in the vacuum of official help.

“There’s no outreach to seniors, and because of that failure, [Veterans Affairs has] allowed a market to be created in partnership with financial advisors and assisted living properties,” said Deborah Burak, a Virginia lobbyist who has railed for pension reform after fighting with Veterans Affairs over benefits for her father.

“They put on huge seminars, and they always do it under the guise of honoring their sacrifice,” she said.

In a May report, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, counted more than 200 organizations nationally that sell financial products to seniors, ostensibly to help them dump wealth to meet asset restrictions on the pensions. Sometimes they offered annuities that the seniors could never hope to recover in their lifetimes, investigators reported.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, has introduced legislation that would make it illegal to transfer assets three years before applying for a pension.

While some say this will further complicate an onerous application process, a spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who introduced the companion bill, said clearing pension poachers from the system will free up time to process legitimate claims.

Piero Pareja, the veterans services officer for Palm Beach County, sees the backlog, though he said some applications are approved in a matter of weeks. He isn’t surprised that millions of bedridden seniors are unaware of the pension, but he encouraged veterans to call his tiny office (three people, including himself), rather than private companies. The Veterans’ Services Office is free and won’t hard sell financial products.

“We can help you,” he said. “We can do 100 percent of the paperwork.”

Pareja’s office did the paperwork for the Fitters, in Wellington. First Fitter and her husband tried to submit the application forms, along with backup documents, themselves. But Veterans Affairs denied their application, requesting more information. So they went to the Veterans’ Service Office.

That was in October. Then just last week, Pearl Fitter was admitted to a local hospital with an infection, as word came from Veterans Affairs. Their claim was approved.

 

Veteran Business Owners Get a Break

The Obama administration is offering a break to former military members who need capital to start or grow a business.  The Small Business Administration has announced that it will waive its initial borrower fees for veterans who secure loans next year via the department’s Express Loan Program, through which the agency backs small-business loans of up to $350,000.  Currently, the agency charges as much as 3 percent of the value of the loans.

Officials had already announced they would waive the fees this coming year for all loans of up to $150,000 – this latest move simply lifts the cap.

“Our nation’s veterans are highly skilled and highly trained leaders in their communities,” Jeanne Hulit, the agency’s acting administration, said in a statement, adding that the move “is part of the Small Business Administration’s broader efforts to make sure that veterans have the tools they need to start and grow a business.”

The announcement came at the end of the agency’s annual National Veteran Small Business Week, during which officials traveled the country to mentor veterans who already own or are considering starting a company.  Supporting veteran owned small businesses is among the agency’s core responsibilities, and in the past year, it helped deliver $1.86 billion in loans to more than 3,000 veteran entrepreneurs. Most of those loans are made by banks, credit unions and other private lenders, but with a partial guarantee from the government.

New research from the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy suggests that programs aimed at veterans may be working. Business ownership among young veterans is on the rise: In 2012, 7.1 percent of veteran business owners were under the age of 35, up from 4.6% in 2008.  This runs counter to the trend among the general population, in which business ownership among non-veteran owners decreased from 18.5 percent to 16.3 percent in the same time period.

“The drawdown of Afghanistan and Iraq has affected the young age bracket,” says Office of Advocacy chief economist Janemarie Mulvey.

Female veterans are also increasingly becoming business owners. The Office of Advocacy research found that in 2012, 4.4 percent of veteran business owners were women, up from 2.5 percent in 2008.  While business ownership for women is much higher in the overall population (35.9 percent of all business owners were women in 2012), the report says business ownership among female veterans is growing at a faster rate.

Loans made through the Express Loan Program, for example, qualify for up to 50 percent guarantee from the agency, and officials make a decision on the applications in no more than 36 hours. Started in 2004, the program consists of less paperwork and processing hurdles than those required to secure larger loans through the agency.

Nearly three-fourths of the Small Business Administration’s loans to veteran owners firms are for no more than $350,000, according to officials, meaning that vast majority of formal military personnel seeking loans next year would save some money.

Not all of the agency’s efforts on behalf of veterans have been a success. One of its recent initiatives, a separate pilot program called Patriot Express, has cost taxpayers millions in default payments and does not ensure that capital is actually going to former members of the military, according to a report released this fall by the Government Accountability Office. The Small Business Administration officials have said they are working to address the problems.

Still, for the most part, the department’s lending programs have provided a valuable lifeline to capital-starved entrepreneurs during what has proved to be a slow economic recovery.  Officials recently announced that the department supported around $30 Billion in loans for the third straight year in fiscal year 2013, even as small business lending nationwide continued to decline in the wake of the recession.

Hulit made clear that her team is particularly committed to providing helpful, affordable services to those who put their lives on the line for their country.

“As we honor our veterans, and thank them for their service and sacrifice, let’s continue to identify ways to support them when they come home,” Hulit said.

These new no-upfront-fee loans are going to be available starting on January 1, 2014.