Whenever there is a change in administration, veterans are naturally concerned with what the changes could mean for them, especially with regards to veteran benefits. We’ve put together a round-up of legislative changes since President Trump took office that affect veteran benefits.
There Have Been Improvements To Educational Benefits
President Trump signed into law a piece of legislation called “The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017”, also known as the Forever GI Bill. The bill makes some changes to the ways that veterans can access education:
- There’s no longer an expiration date. Any veteran who left the military after 1 January 2013 can access educational benefits. (There was previously a cut-off date.)
- Veterans studying in science, technology, engineering or math can now apply for an extra year of funding. This is allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
- The Yellow Ribbon program, where schools split the cost of education with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reduce the amount students need to pay, is being extended to include more veterans, plus surviving spouses and children.
- Purple Heart recipients (those wounded in active service) no longer need a 36 month service record to qualify for full educational benefits.
- Veterans will see a rise in what they’re entitled to based on length of duty. Vets who served more than 90 days but less than six months' active service now qualify for 50% of GI bill benefits instead of 40%.
- There is an increase in benefits for veterans’ spouses, with new legislation meaning some benefits can now be extended to surviving spouses or children.
- Vets now have more flexibility in how they distribute their educational benefits for use by their surviving spouse or children in the event of their death.
For older vets who want to make use of benefits to get extra education, these changes make education a little easier on the wallet.
The VA Now Has More Power To Fire Failed Employees
Many vets and their caregivers will remember the CNN investigations into VA hospitals back in 2013 and 2014. The country was horrified to learn about veteran deaths due to incompetence and delays. New legislation signed by Trump gives the VA greater powers to fire incompetent employees. There is also greater protection for whistleblowers, making it easier for staff to come forward.
For older vets in need of medical care, this could have a positive impact on the quality of care they can expect to receive.
Veterans Choice Makes Care In The Community A Reality
The Veterans Choice Program has made it possible for veterans to access the medical care they need right in their community, instead of having to wait or travel to a VA facility.
To qualify, veterans must be be enrolled in VA healthcare and meet at least one of these criteria:
- Live at least 40 miles from a VA facility
- Need to travel by air, boat or ferry to reach their nearest VA facility
- Live in a state or territory that doesn’t have a full-service VA facility
- Face an extensive financial, physical or emotional burden in order to reach their nearest VA facility
- Face a wait of 30 days or more for an appointment at a VA facility
Appealing Veterans’ Benefits Decisions Is Easier
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 makes it much easier for veterans to appeal benefits decisions. Veterans who are unhappy with their disability rating can now follow one of three courses of action:
- Seek a higher-level review at their regional claims office
- File a supplemental claim, including additional evidence to back up their appeal
- Appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals for an expedited review of their case
The aim of the new law is to make the appeals process faster for veterans. Under the previous law, decisions could take up to five years, causing distress to veterans in need of benefits. Veterans who are already registered on the old system can also transfer to the new appeals system.
There are some significant changes here, which will hopefully mean easier access to veteran benefits, education and healthcare. For help with application for VA benefits, or to find out which benefits you or a loved one can claim, you can call the Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000.