Biden's first budget includes big funding increase for VA
The White House has requested nearly $270 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs budget for fiscal 2022, a 10% increase from 2021 that would fund priorities including the agency's caregiver programs, suicide prevention and GI Bill modernization.
According to Military.com, under the fiscal 2022 budget proposal, the VA would receive $113.1 billion in discretionary spending, an 8.2% increase from 2021, not including medical care collections.
With the release of the budget, Congress will deliberate over actual funding and the final language of the spending bill, with a goal to complete it by Oct. 1. In the past several years, however, the House and Senate have not met the deadline for passing most appropriations bills.
The Biden budget is the latest ever released, increasing the likelihood that the VA appropriations bill will not be completed by the deadline.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he looks forward to hearing from VA Secretary Denis McDonough on the budget proposal, which includes funding for health care, programs and benefits. But, he added, Congress also will focus on other needs at the VA.
"The White House blueprint includes important tools to combat veteran suicide and prevent homelessness, while also investing in claims processing to expedite benefits for thousands of veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism – three Agent Orange presumptive conditions covered under my Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act," Tester said. "But as Congress considers this proposal, we also need to continue to ensure VA has the capacity to fill health care vacancies and improve infrastructure."
Lawmakers seek solutions to hunger among service members, veterans
There's scant information on how widespread the problem of hunger is among currently serving military families and veteran families, but there are some actions that could help those who are struggling to put food on the table, advocates recently told lawmakers.
As Military Times reported, one such suggestion is providing automatic SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, to service members in the lower ranks as they separate from the military, said Colleen Heflin, professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University. She and other advocates participated in a roundtable discussion of hunger in the military and veteran communities before the House Rules Committee.
They discussed the stigma in asking for help that's perceived by service members, veterans and their families; difficulties families face in qualifying for assistance; and lack of real data to quantify the extent of the problem.
"Across America today, there are spouses and children of service members who may not know where their next meal is coming from," said Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern, D-Mass. "And for too many men and women who served our nation and are back in the civilian community, they and their families are struggling to put food on the table.
Some limited information has been available in recent surveys. For example, 14 percent of active-duty enlisted family member respondents to the online 2020 Blue Star Family Lifestyle Survey said they had food insecurity within the past 12 months. The survey was available online from September 2020 to October 2020, so the responses also reflected pandemic experiences.
Veterans and their families in Michigan who are struggling financially and/or may not be connected to the full benefits they earned for their service can call the MVAA at 1-800-MICH-VET to find out what may be available to them.
Be aware of veteran pension poaching scams
If you currently receive VA pension payments or if you are thinking about applying for Veterans Pension, Survivors Pension, or Aid and Attendance (A&A) and housebound benefits, you could be the target of a scam known as pension poaching. Don't let scammers take advantage of you. Read on to see how you can protect the benefits you have earned.
What is pension poaching?
Every year, VA distributes a billion dollars in pension payments to help low-income veterans who served in wartime and their families through financial challenges. Pension poaching is a financial scam that targets veterans, survivors and family members who may be eligible for these benefits. The most popular type of pension poaching occurs when dishonest people falsely qualify veterans and survivors for VA pension benefits. These individuals may be attorneys, financial planners or benefits advisors.
Veterans should be on the lookout for people or organizations who:
- Tell you to move your money around to qualify for VA pension payments.
- Claim that pension benefits can be deposited into a caregiver's account.
- Charge you money for assisting with a VA pension claim.
- Take your credit card information over the phone.
- Charge you money upfront to represent your claim with VA.
Most poaching scams target veterans and family members who do not qualify for VA pension benefits. If VA approves your pension benefits and later determines that eligibility did not exist, you may be required to repay the benefits to the government.
Read more in the VA's VAntage Point blog.
Former military police officer rises up to help her fellow veterans
As a military police officer in the late 2000s, Meghan Shellington took pride in enforcing the law at a U.S. Army base in Germany. Her fellow soldiers would become the "greatest family" she never knew she needed, she says, while serving overseas was an eye-opening experience that allowed her to immerse herself in other cultures and lifestyles.
But the Army would also bring dark times. Meghan, a Lansing-area native who enlisted during high school, says she was sexually assaulted by a soldier in her unit. She experienced sexual harassment almost daily, was forced to hide a pregnancy from her superiors and repeatedly fought to be treated as an equal.
"Being a female serving, I've been a giant inconvenience the entire time," says Meghan, now 30. "And they made sure to let you know that you were an inconvenience."
Transitioning back into civilian life in 2013 brought its own difficulties. Meghan faced discrimination when she identified as a veteran and couldn't find a good, full-time job as she and her then-husband struggled to provide for their children.
Today, however, the mother of four is financially stable – working as a federal technician for the Michigan National Guard – and helps her fellow veterans meet their basic needs through her role with the Lansing Area Veterans Coalition.
"I finally have reached a phase in my life where I am proud to be a veteran," Meghan says. "And it doesn't matter what people think they know about me."
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