Overload: Finding the VA Information You Need



Our yearlong deployment to Iraq was officially over. I stood at attention with my fellow soldiers for the last time before being thrown back into the civilian world. It was finally time to shed my desert camouflage uniform. It was finally time to trade in my title as combat photographer for college student. It was time to “fall out” and fall into the category of Iraq War Veteran.

In late 2005, I realized transition from soldier to Veteran wasn’t going to be easy. My only connection to other soldiers and Vets was through my Army Reserve unit. At that time only a few of us had deployed, and when I showed up to drill with specific questions about the GI Bill and other VA benefits, it turned into a game of Telephone. “Well, Sergeant Smith uses the GI Bill and he needed this and that. But you should ask Specialist Clark because she said she didn’t need that paperwork. And do you have the fax number to the one lady who signs off on that one sheet of paper? Yeah, you totally need to get in touch with that lady.”

By the time I found Sergeant Smith and Specialist Clark, I discovered a magical lady with a fax machine didn’t exist–nor did a Veteran in my unit that could give me correct information. I wasn’t sure who or where to turn to. In an attempt to untangle the web of information I faced, I searched online for “GI Bill.” I clicked around; convinced the answers I needed had to be swirling around the web somewhere.

Chapter 30? Chapter 1606? Tuition Assistance? Sites popped up that I had never heard of or that had no connection to VA. Click after click led me to different sites, to different points of view, and to different ways to go about obtaining my benefits. Several of the sites reminded me of Sergeant Smith and Specialist Clark–they just regurgitated inaccurate information.

It only took minutes for me to realize, VA sites–admittedly tough to navigate at times–were the best source for information for benefits and programs. Reverting back to VA, I was able to secure my GI Bill benefits for the fall, along with tuition assistance for my summer classes.

Nearly six years later, when I search the web for “GI Bill,” I am hit with millions of results. Websites range from trusted government sites to pages that seem to have more of an interest in advertising space than providing good information. The worst offenders are plastered with advertisements from for-profit schools that have recently faced scrutiny for their sudden interest in Veterans benefits on PBS Frontline.

So instead of getting caught in a web of miscommunication, go straight to the source: The Department of Veterans Affairs.  Here are some helpful links to get started:

How VA is Structured (and Why it Matters to You): An easy to digest overview of how the department is set up and how this could affect you when filing benefits

New to VA: An overall idea of who is eligible for benefits and how to apply

2011 VA Benefits book for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors: A breakdown of benefits for you and your family

A-Z Health Topic Finder: A list of health topics in alphabetical order

Locations: View interactive maps of VA hospitals and centers across the U.S.

GI Bill: Don’t fall victim to information overload. Go here for accurate information on your educational benefits

National Center for PTSD: A resource for obtaining VA mental health care and/or related information

Homeless Veterans: Learn about preventative services and how to get on-the-spot help

Center for Women Veterans: A breakdown of services and benefits for the approximately 1.8 million female Vets in the country

VA Home loans: Helpful information on obtaining a home loan

VA National Cemeteries: Browse VA cemeteries by state

Contact Us: Give us a call, we are here to help Veterans and their families in any way that we can

VA’s web sites should be the first destination for Veterans looking to take advantage of their benefits. This list should point you in the right direction and relieve some of stress sometimes associated with obtaining benefits. I urge you to get started and click around!

Author

Kate Hoit

Comments

  1. Paul Salvette    

    Kate,

    Thank you very much for sharing this information to help navigate the bureaucracy. It’s a relief to hear that things have changed for the better in the last 5 years in terms of veterans being able to utilize what is owed to them.

  2. Rickey Harper, SFC (RET)    

    Kate,

    Here is a good link for all Soldier’s no matter what Status.

    Military Connection takes great pride in assisting the active military including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, the Reserves including Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Marine Reserve and the National Guard.
    http://www.militaryconnection.com/about.asp

    Thank you for the work you do.

  3. charmaine    

    For all veterans and family members out there the best place to begin the process of knowing what you’re benefits are or to locate records, medical assistance, etc. start off with your VETERANS SERVICE OFFICER that’s located in just about every state. There you have someone who can sit down with you and explain the mystery of the VA system. Word of caution.. Do not get overwhelmed with the process.

    Another great place to begin is also the VET CENTERS which are just about everywhere…Most of the counselors are veterans themselves and the ones who aren’t are geared up to point vets in the right direction.

  4. Major Doug Rokke, Ph.D    

    Thank you -m great information. But as vets proceed given we already have over 625,000 oif oef dnbi casualties in need of medical care and over 275,000 desert storm dnbi casualties still seeking care the process can be overwhelming given that essential post deployment physicals DD form 2796 if filled out have a tendancy to disappear and then the sharing of information reagarding exposures and health problems is inadequate. Just within the last 24 hours a report surfaced on the New England Journal of Medicine findingsw confirming the already known severe respiratory problems that we discussed years ago. The problem all vets face is not only inadequate admission of corelation between military serrvice and medical problems and of course inadequate funding but inadequate political will by our leaders to really resolve the lingering problems. We can’t give up but only hope that prompt and optimal medical care along with support services will be provided without any more delay or denial. I am tired of and frustrated because I along with others who care such Major Denise Nichols, RN and SGT. Paul Sullivan- Vets for Common Sense and others are spending so much time helping those in need because they have been abandoned by those who have the legal obligation to help. As problems are identified they should be resolved now not in the future as is happening. With a huge backlog of claims processing vets must wait and sadly they can’t wait for the care/ support / benefits they / we earned.

    Oh well, nothing changes except the numbers of those in need keep increasing while lingering problems that should be immediately resolved remain.

  5. Frank Bayles    

    One of a Veterans greatest resources is thier local OEF/OIF/OND Transitional Patient Advocate. They can help you navigate the system.

  6. Bill Jackson    

    I am a 100% disable Desert Storm veteran with PTSD and I hav a VA appointed custodian taking care of my money. I am living with my daughter and I would like to change custodian from VA to her. I’ve talked to Va and can’t get any straight answers. I don’t feel that I should pay VA to do this when my daughter can. Any ideas of what I can do would be great.

    1. Chris    

      Mr. Jackson,

      You need to contact your field examiner in the Fiduciary Unit at your regional office. You should know who this person is. This would be the person that came out and interviewed you when the incompetency was proposed. You have the right to request anyone you would like to be your custodian. If you live with your daughter now, that change in status would be new and material evidence that could prompt the change. Your daughter has to be willing to comply with the accounting practices that the VA requires and be willing & able to provide the detailed reports of the spending of your funds. She must also pass a credit check to ensure fiscal responsibility. If you do not have your field examiners name and number, contact 1-800-827-1000 and ask for the number to your public contact unit. If it is an unpublished or non-transferrable number, then ask the representative to send a non-emergency email to the public contact unit requesting that your field examiner contact you.

      Veteran Service Rep
      National Call Center

  7. Jill    

    Yes I agree. The information via word of mouth is often poor and misinformed. The VA has numerous benefits for people exactly like you, who are willing to take advantage of the services they have to offer. Too many times, people don’t know where to go or who to talk or which form is appropriate. The services should find a way to explain that the regional VA offices are very helpful. The benefits are worth the time and aggravation that you shouldn’t have to spend on them, since the process is actually very simple. Thanks for all the great insight.

  8. Concession Equipment    

    Thanks for your service, and I really mean it! (I have daughter in the Navy and she just married a Marine).

  9. pw    

    Hello. My name is paul. Im writing because i want all brothers and sisters to know that people arent out to take advantage of us.
    I have recently taken advantage of my va benefits when my wife and i decided to buy our first home. We talked to a couple of lenders and didnt feel comfortable with them. I did a internet search in for va mortgage specialist in san diego and found a great site. va-mortgage.org.
    within a short time after requesting information online i was contacted by a loan officer. this gentleman was great. he walked my wife and i through the entire process. even though i was concerned about my income and credit he helped us with everything. Now my wife and I are in our first home. This company was really great.
    I suggest any of my fellow veterans thinking of purchasing a home talk to these people. va-mortgage.org

    sincerely
    paul

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