Community Opinion

Veteran’s Update

ND/MN Honor Flight program

I recently talked to Dave Rice of the ND/MN Honor Flight program. They are in the process of accepting applications for this spring’s flight to Washington, DC.

By Leon Hiltner
County Veterans Service Officer

The next flight will depart Hector International Airport in Fargo on Sunday, May 19, 2019 and will return on Monday, May 20, 2019. Just Google ND/MN Honor Flight for applications. WWII, Korea and VietNam veterans are eligible with the terminally ill taking precedence. A recent change has been that Honor Flight of ND/MN is now accepting applications for National Guard soldiers that served up to 1959.

Net Worth for Needs-Based Benefits Increased

VA changed the way it calculates income for needs-based benefits in October. VA has new requirements for evaluating a veteran’s net worth and assets when determining his or her pension. VA now identifies medical expenses that could be deducted from the veteran’s net worth when determining eligibility for VA’s needs-based benefits programs.

VA claims the newly enforced amendments help “ensure the integrity” of VA’s needs-based benefits programs. VA added that the rule change will help its employees offer vets more consistent decisions when determining claims for items such as pensions and parents’ dependency and indemnity compensation.

In September, VA published a final rule in the Federal Register that will establish a three-year “look-back” period when determining eligibility for income-based benefits, including pension with aid and attendance. The three-year re-evaluation period is intended to limit a veteran’s asset transfers in order to qualify for assistance. Those types of transfers might bar the veteran from receiving pension benefits until the assets are used for their living expenses.

Veterans can transfer some funds without penalty:

• Special needs trusts for the benefit of helpless children (adolescent and adult).

• Trusts where the veteran retains control over the funds.

VA’s final rule also states that veterans can reverse the transfer or buy back the asset in order to avoid a penalty.

Some of the changes that went into effect on Oct. 18, 2018, allow veterans to:

• Increase their net worth amount to qualify for a pension.

• Deduct medical expenses for dementia care and third-party care providers.

For questions about VA benefits, visit www.vfw.orglassistance/va-claims-separationbenefits to find a VFW -trained service officer to assist you.

Source: VFW Magazine

Feb. 2019 issue

Win a Free Antelope Hunt to Broadus, Montana

As a seriously wounded war veteran, you can win, at no expense, a three-day antelope hunt in Montana. It includes: round-trip airfare or car mileage, lodging, meals, guide service and field dreSSing of the game. This trip will take place in October 2019.

If you are a seriously wounded war vet, write to us, and we will enter your name in the drawing. Winners must have sustained their wounds in combat (Purple Heart recipients) and are rated highly physically disabled. A veteran may be confined to a wheelchair but must be stable, have the ability to fire a weapon and have some upper body strength.

To enter, fill out the coupon and fax or mail by March 31, 2019. A DD-214 copy is mandatory. Send to:

VFW Magazine

Attn: Dave Spiva

406 W. 34th St.,

Kansas City, MO 64111

(816) 156-3390 Fax 816-968-2161

Source: VFW Magazine

Feb. 2019 issue

Late-hour Blue Water Navy push fails

BY TOM PHILPOTT

American Legion Magazine

Feb. 2019

Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Senate Budget Committee chairman, and Mike Lee of Utah blocked two late-hour efforts by colleagues to pass Blue Water Navy legislation that would have made tens of thousands of ailing veterans who served on ships off Vietnam eligible for Agent Orange-related disability compensation and health care.

Both senators, in opposing the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299), echoed concerns of VA Secretary Robert Wilkie that there still isn’t credible scientific evidence tying shipboard service in territorial waters off Vietnam to health conditions presumed to be associated with the spraying of herbicides on jungles to expose enemy positions.

The Congressional Budget Office strengthened their stand with a new cost estimate indicating the House bill wasn’t properly funded.

The House passed H.R. 299 unanimously in June, with a provision to offset the cost of expanding Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans by raising fees on vetera ns who use the VA home loan program. CBO at the time said the higher fees would more than cover costs of the bill, even creating several hundred million dollars in budget savi ngs for VA. But in a December letter to Enzi, CBO delivered a revised estimate that “incorporates additional information” its auditors didn’t have when the House bill passed.

Because many more veterans and survivors could qualify for Agent Orange benefits than previously projected, CBO said, VA spending would climb by $1.1 billion over the next decade.

The Blue Water Navy bill seemed to have enough momentum to become law in 2018 after clearing the House without dissent. But it stalled in the Senate, and last August Wilkie and his staff vigorously attacked the bill. The shift at VA was jarring, given that just last year then-Secretary David Shulkin expressed support.

Wilkie and his undersecretary for benefits, Paul Lawrence, said it would be wrong for Congress to extend Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water sailors without sound evidence they were exposed to harmful amounts of herbicides while at sea. It would create a disastrous precedent for VA to award benefits for wartime exposures if the science is uncertain, they argued.

Blue Water Navy advocates counter that Congress has given many thousands of veterans who served on land or patrolled Vietnam rivers the same benefit of the doubt they seek for ship crews that streamed near to shore . •

The funding mechanism for H.R. 299 also became more controversial after July. Major veterans service organizations that supported the detail in June came to oppose language that for the first time would charge home loan fees to certain disabled veterans – those with ratings below 100 percent who use a new jumbo loan feature to buy more costly homes.

On Dec. 9, Sen. Kirsten Cillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced a motion to pass H.R. 299 by unanimous consent. Isakson endorsed it, arguing the longoverdue expansion of benefits would be fully paid for in the bill. Enzi cited the revised CBO cost es timate, adding that VA’s own analysis said the actual costs might be double that. He also said there is great uncertainty over how many veterans and survivors would be eligible. The current range is between 60,000 and 440,000 – “a pretty big gap.”

Enzi then used the authority every senator has to block the unanimous consent vote. Within six minutes of Cillibrand filing her motion, it failed.



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