Benefits go begging when vets aren’t informed

The News TribuneNovember 27, 2012 

Ignorance isn’t bliss if you’re a military veteran unaware of the benefits and services available to you.

Unfortunately, that’s the case for millions of America’s veterans. A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2010 Veterans Affairs survey data found that more than half of veterans have little or no idea what benefits they’re entitled to – including access to VA health facilities, payment for disabilities incurred during military service, home loans and money for education.

Even among the best-informed cohort – younger veterans who served since 9/11 – 40 percent say they have little or no understanding of their benefits. More than 60 percent are unaware of their life insurance benefits.

Fortunately, that’s starting to change. Since the 2010 survey, the VA has expanded access to the benefits it offers. And beginning this week, service members will be required to attend a series of briefings about their benefits as they prepare to transition to civilian life. Heretofore, attendance at those briefings was often optional.

The side effect of more awareness is likely to be more use of VA services. And as the military winds down its presence in Afghanistan and probable deficit-reduction cuts pare the size of active-duty forces, the ranks of those seeking access to post-service benefits is likely to grow.

Some veterans complain that they’ve had to wait too long or make repeated calls to get information on their benefits. Once they apply, it takes about eight months for the VA to process the average claims benefit – two months longer than it took a decade ago. That kind of delay can discourage some veterans from getting the services they need and deserve.

The VA will have to step up its game to more efficiently handle what’s sure to be an increasing number of veterans seeking its services. And Congress must ensure that the agency has the resources to deal with the wave coming its way – particularly in addressing health care for those who served in combat zones.

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