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Questions and answers with VA Secretary Denis McDonough

In a town hall event on Wednesday, May 15 at the Cleveland VA Medical Center, VA Secretary Denis McDonough addressed the top requested concerns from Veterans and their families, caregivers and survivors.

The one-hour-and-a-half town hall was streamed live on YouTube. Check out the recording online.

During the town hall, Secretary McDonough covered a broad range of topics, including:

PACT Act/Burn Pits/Agent Orange/Toxic Exposure/Camp Lejeune.

BVA Appeals.

Dental Care/Health care/Prescriptions.

Education/Insurance/Ancillary Benefits.

Community Care/Travel Reimbursement/Rural Health/Appointment Wait Times.

Caregivers/Survivors/Memorial Affairs.

Contacting VA/VA Systems/FOIA.

Benefits/Claims/“VA Math”/Exams.

Military Records/Retirement Pay/Base Access.

For more information, visit VA.gov or call 1-800-MyVA411.

A few questions from Veterans and their answers.

Question: In applying for disability compensation, etc., I have been informed that there are not enough American Legion representatives in my area to handle the caseload of claims for Veterans. Not sure where to turn for assistance. I live in Cheektowaga, New York, a suburb of Buffalo.

Answers:

The Buffalo American Legion (ALG) office closed on April 1, 2024, due to budgetary constraints.

The American Legion has an office in Buffalo City Hall, though it might be inconvenient.

The Buffalo RO is stepping in to assist Veterans, and outreach efforts are being made to support those affected.

Question: Can you help with the appeal process and why does it take so long to get an answer? When calling 1-800-827-1000, representatives often do not provide accurate information on my case.

Answer:

Appeals are inherently complex, requiring more time for resolution.

The transition to the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) system aims to expedite the process.

Veterans now have three options for reviewing VA decisions: higher-level review, supplemental claim, or Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

The higher-level review process offers a quicker resolution with a de novo review.

Customer service quality at the VBA National Contact Center has significantly improved, with a 95.88% accuracy rate in appellate-related inquiries.

Question: Can student loan forgiveness be made available to Veterans?

Answers:

Several options exist to assist Veterans with student loan repayments, administered by the U.S. Department of Education.

Income-driven repayment plans like the SAVE (Saving on a Valuable Education) plan can lower payments to as little as $0.

Veterans employed by government or non-profit organizations might qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF).

Total and Permanent Disability Discharge (TPD) is available for 100% disabled Veterans.

Active-duty members can benefit from PSLF and capped interest rates on pre-service student loans.

Question: If a medical condition is now presumptive under the PACT Act, why must a claim still be adjudicated?

Answers:

Each claim must be adjudicated to determine the severity of the disability, assigning a rating percentage and effective date.

The evaluation criteria in VA’s schedule for rating disabilities (VASRD) require individualized assessment.

Proper adjudication ensures the correct compensation based on unique claim circumstances.

Question: Why can’t VA lower the percentage for dental benefits to all honorably discharged Veterans?

Answer:

Eligibility for dental benefits varies, with several qualifying conditions, including compensable and non-compensable service-connected disabilities.

Specific programs provide limited dental care, such as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, homelessness programs, and care-related needs.

Question: Why does VA not pay for cremation instead of burial?

Answer:

VA’s burial allowance covers all legal methods of disposition, including cremation, burial at sea, and medical school donation.

Question: Why does VA only offer a $40,000 maximum life insurance policy for Veterans with PTSD?

Answers:

VALife offers guaranteed acceptance coverage up to $40,000, designed to be self-supporting.

Premium offsets require congressional funding.

Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) allows for higher coverage conversion up to $500,000 after separation from service.

For more information, visit VA.gov or call 1-800-MyVA411.

Welcome to your local American Legion! We will no longer be open for dinner on Mondays and Tuesdays.

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