As veterans adjust to civilian life after tours of duty in the armed services, one of their primary governmental resources is the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). Established under the Hoover Administration, the role of the VBA is to offer assistance to veterans and their loved ones in the areas of job placement, housing, education, life insurance, and financial compensation.
The VBA is among three agencies that make up the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA); the other two being the National Cemetery Administration and the Veterans Health Administration as this sample essay will discuss.
Education programs for veterans
Education programs are available to active, on-call, and veteran military personnel, as well as select family members. The purpose of these programs is to replace educational opportunities that were interrupted by calls of duty, provide funding for higher education to those who can’t afford it, and to help retired service personnel adjust to life as students. In addition to nurturing qualified candidates for the workforce, some of the following programs in this category seek to encourage military enlistment among young adults.
- Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty (MGIB). Available for up to 10 years after separation from service, the MGIB offers 36 months of educational entitlements for active and departing military personnel.
- Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR). Run by the Department of Defense, the MGIB-SR offers 36 months of entitlements—redeemable for up to 14 years—to selected reserve personnel.
- Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program (Post 9/11-GI Bill). Offers tuition aid, book stipends, and boarding allowances to veterans and reservists who served at some point after Sept. 10, 2001. Unused benefits are transferable to spouses and offsprings.
The following VBA insurance programs have been designed so that veterans can obtain life insurance at standard rates despite having been exposed to hazardous elements while on active duty.
- Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI). Veterans who leave the military with Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) can have it changed to VGLI by applying within 120 days of separation from service. That deadline can even be extended for up to a year longer proof of insurability is presented. For disabled vets, VGLI is extended free-of-charge for two years, beyond which proof of insurability isn’t required.
- Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (SDVI). Healthy veterans with service-related disabilities can qualify for as much as $10,000 in coverage through the SDVI. Heavily disabled veterans are eligible for a further $30,000. The SDVI is available to veterans who left the service after April 25, 1951.
Loan guarantee programs
The VBA’s loan guaranty programs are designed to help active and retired military personnel and their loved ones obtain funding to buy homes. Assistance is offered via private lenders, who provide partial guarantees so that those who qualify don’t have to make down payments on loans.
- Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grants. Offered to veterans with disabilities stemming from time in the military, the SAH program funds the construction and renovation of homes to suit the physical needs of the individual.
- Native American Direct Home Loans. Offered to Native American veterans and their spouses—courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs—who wish to buy or build their own homes on trust lands.
- Servicing Assistance. Available in several forms and designed to help financially strapped Veterans make loan payments and avoid foreclosure at any cost.
- Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI). Available to disabled veterans on SAH grants, the VMLI offers mortgage life insurance coverage for as much as $20,000.
- Servicemembers’ Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI). Offered to SGLI recipients who’ve endured severe, handicap-causing injuries since Dec. 1, 2005.
On Sept. 30, 2014, the VA released $207 million in grants to 56 communities throughout the U.S. through the department’s National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) program, which is geared towards ending homelessness among veterans in this country (“VA Awards SSVF”).
United States disabled veteran benefits: A brief history
Since the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Government has awarded benefits to citizens that have served in the military. At first, benefits were simply handed out to all veterans as a token of honor for having served the country. Upon the nation’s entry into WWI, however, Congress changed the standard by which benefits are granted. Unlike before, when the granting of benefits was a measure of federal gratuity, the concept was changed to a process of indemnity; a change that was amended to law in 1919.
In the near-century since that time, benefits have been awarded to veterans who’ve experienced trauma and debilitating injuries while on active duty; particularly in cases where the injuries have impacted a veteran’s working capabilities. Compensation rates are based on the impairment level of each given veteran.
Compensation and pension programs
Two of the key benefits that the VBA offers disabled and/or financially strapped veterans and their families are compensation and pension services, which are provided through the following programs:
- Disability Compensation. Veterans who’ve been disabled or ill-stricken while on active duty can apply for this benefit, which is granted at levels that are based on the severity of an applicant’s condition, based on a scale of 10-100. Vets can also get free VA hospital treatment for such conditions.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. Families of military personnel who’ve been killed on active duty can apply for DIC benefits, as can loved ones of veterans who died at home from injuries or illnesses sustained while on duty.
- Pension Programs. Designed for low-income vets and their loved ones, pension programs offer supplemental income in the event of disability or death on the home front.
- Burial and Interment Allowances. Available to select veterans; the highest allowances are granted in cases where the death occurred while on active duty.
In September 2014, the Senate unanimously passed the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2014, which guarantees 1.5 percent increases for disabled vets and their loved ones based on cost of living (“Congress Approves”).
Vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) program
Alternately called the Chapter 31 program, VR&E is designed to help disabled veterans locate and secure suitable means of employment. For those whose injuries preclude them from working, VR&E offers assistance to help such veterans improve their motor skills in order to regain levels of independence. The program offers the following services:
- A full evaluation of one’s employable talents, interests, and skill sets
- Employment-related counseling and rehabilitation
- A variety of employment services, including help with resume preparation and job-seeking skills
- Help locating and securing jobs
- Apprenticeships and on-the-job training
- Training at institutes of higher learning
- Services that help injured veterans live independently despite being unable to work
On March 16, 2015, a bill aimed at incentivizing companies into hiring veterans was brought before the House floor. According to co-sponsor Kathleen Rice (D-NY), the Boosting Rates of American Veteran Employment (BRAVE) Act would “make it a priority, in government and in the private sector, to fully invest in our veterans, invest in their potential to use their unique training and experience to excel in the civilian workforce, ” (Wheeler).
Adequacy of veteran disability benefits in the U.S.
Debates around the adequacy of benefits awarded by the VA have swirled for decades. One of the issues at stake is whether veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are sufficiently compensated in proportion to their reduced earning abilities. On one hand, veterans aged 65 and over, who rank at least 50 percent disabled, receive more in compensation than non-disabled vets earn through work or Social Security (Christensen). Disabled veterans under age 55, however, typically receive less in compensation, while non-disabled vets in the same age-bracket earn more in the workforce.
According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, PTSD symptoms and homeless rates are lower among disabled veterans who receive benefits (Murdoch et al.). Nonetheless, scholars are divided on the issue of whether disability benefits help or hinder the ability of veterans to overcome PTSD. Some critics have argued that benefits perpetuate dependency among vets, including University of Cincinnati psychiatrist Douglas Mossman, who referred to such benefits as
“a program with good intentions [that] has yielded a series of perverse incentives that reward illness, encourage patients to view themselves as incapacitated, and poison the relationships between patients and their caregivers,” (Mossman).
Others have even alleged that claims of PTSD are exaggerated for certain benefits; a notion that has drawn fire from various circles. In a 2008 article for the American Journal of Public Health, it was argued that studies used to pinpoint supposed high numbers of compensation-claim fraud are mostly drawn from small groups of people within biased clinical settings (Marx).
“VA Awards SSVF Surge Funding to 56 Communities.” PR Newswire. PR Newswire Association LLC. 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 March 2015.
“Congress Approves Inflation Increase For Veterans.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 March 2015.
Wheeler, Lydia. “First bill from Rep. Rice takes aim at veteran employment.” The Hill. Capitol Hill Publishing. 16 March 2015. Corp. Web. 21 March 2015.
Christensen, Eric, et al. Final Report for the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission: Compensation, Survey Results, and Selected Topics. The CNA Corporation. Aug. 2007. Pdf. 21 March 2015.
Murdoch, Maureen, et al. “Long-term Outcomes of Disability Benefits in US Veterans With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” The JAMA Network. American Medical Association. Oct. 2011. Web. 21 March 2015.
Mossman, Douglas. “At the VA, it pays to be sick.” The Public Interest. National Affairs, Inc. 1994. Web. 21 March 2015.
Marx, Brian P, et al. “Military-related PTSD, current disability policies, and malingering.” American Journal of Public Health. American Public Health Association. May 2008. Web. 21 March 2015.