SALSA Spotlight: Veterans’ Benefits

There are currently about 19 million veterans in the United States, which represents less than 10 percent of the adult population. These 19 million veterans willingly faced dire occupational risks and made personal sacrifices that cannot be fully understood unless experienced first-hand. We honor and repay these patriots through a national promise to care for and respect the service of our veterans. A promise first made to civil war veterans and renewed in the VA mission statement: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘[t]o care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” 

A recruit fresh out of initial entry training earns $1,785.00 a month. To provide prospective, if a service member were required to work no more than 40 hours a week (which any vet will tell you is highly unlikely), $1,785.00 equates to little more than $11 an hour! Fourteen states have a higher minimum wage than what we pay the majority of our armed forces. Although not a justification for the dismal monetary compensation paid to those willing to die for our way of life, the military pay scale is supplemented by additional non-monetary benefits available to the service member both in and out of uniform. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is the organization generally responsible for the distribution of those benefits once the service member separates from their service branch.

The programs and benefits available to veterans through the VA fall within two major areas: Healthcare and Non-Healthcare Benefits. Although the VA has a massive budget and widespread supporting infrastructure, many veterans are unaware of the benefits or assistance programs their service entitles them to. As VA policy may change with every legislative session, periodic review of available entitlements is important to ensure veterans receive the entitlements they have earned.

The Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare network is the largest in the country, serving 9 million veterans at 1,255 locations nationwide. Healthcare options are available to veterans who can prove that they have service-connected disabilities and were discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable. A service-connected disability is one that is incurred or aggravated in the line of active military service. Generally, service connection is established through medical evaluations and historical documentation. Although the qualifications of service connection may seem simple and straightforward, the process of establishing service connection can be a frustratingly long and confusing process. The process may deter many veterans from pursuing a determination of service connection, but with the help of a knowledgeable advocate, veterans should be able to obtain the support they are due.

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) section of the VA handles the non‑healthcare related programs. The VBA oversees the awarding and distribution of disability compensation and pension payments, education and employment assistance, vocational training, home loans, and many other programs designed to help a veteran reach their full potential in their transition from Service Member to Civilian. These programs are often overlooked by veterans and advocates when considering VA assistance. Each program has its own requirements and processes which require a veteran to navigate the application and claims process for each program. A Veteran’s process to secure benefits is fraught with bureaucracy and frustration, but once acquired the benefits available have the potential to considerably improve the Veteran’s quality of life.

If you are a veteran or know a veteran in need of assistance in obtaining the entitlements they have earned, please encourage them to reach out to SALSA by applying for services at www.sa-lsa.org/veteran or to veteran service organizations who assist with VA claims. If you are interested in helping veterans obtain access to these benefits, please contact Todd Tagami at toddt@sa-lsa.org.

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