(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 41, Issue 3.)
Jim, a 72-year-old Vietnam Veteran, was barely making ends meet on a monthly fixed income of about $2,000 in 2015. He’d spent the better part of the decade pursuing VA pension benefits and was denied three times. Jim, a lighting technician in the television and film industry, retired early on permanent disability at age 62 due to significant hearing loss caused by his military service.
In Vietnam, Jim loaded bombs onto fighter jets that were taking off from the aircraft carrier where he was stationed. He also witnessed the gruesome accidental death of a fellow soldier working right beside him -- a memory he still vividly recalls more than 45 years later. However, Jim was reluctant to include a mental health issue as part of his claim; he didn’t want to be labeled.
Jim came to our Community Services office at the MPTF (Motion Picture & Television Fund) in California to seek help with pursuing a service-connected disability claim for hearing loss, tinnitus and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After a year of paperwork and medical exams, Jim was awarded an 80 percent combined disability rating. A year later, this was converted to a full 100 percent rating, more than doubling Jim’s monthly fixed income in perpetuity. Jim no longer feels anxiety when routine bills arrive. He says this benefit has changed his life.
Sadly, Jim’s story is not unusual when military veterans, their surviving spouses, and their families seek VA benefits. This article is intended as an introduction to service providers who assist veterans and surviving spouses as part of their practice. The laws governing VA claims preparation and representation are stringent. Non-accredited individuals are permitted to assist one individual with one claim and cannot charge a fee. Despite these restrictions, advocates for these clients can play a critical role in educating and empowering them to pursue and secure these essential monetary benefits.
In this article, you will learn about:
- The types of pension benefits available to non-military-retired older veterans and their surviving spouses
- The challenges to accessing those benefits
- Top screening questions to determine eligibility
- The transformative impact of pension benefit awards to retirees, surviving spouses and their families