According to the 2012 United States Census brief, there are more than 12.4 million veterans age 65 or older. This elderly veteran population served in conflicts such as World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and also in the Persian Gulf War. There are issues affecting all veterans as they battle the VA for the benefits they deserve, but today we will look at some of the issues that are commonly faced by elderly veterans in particular.
Lack of evidence
In order to obtain VA disability benefits, a veteran must have medical evidence showing they suffer from a current disability, medical or lay evidence showing the disability began or was aggravated in service, and medical evidence of a link, or nexus, between their current disability and the in-service event. Additionally, in order to show the severity of their disability, the veteran will need evidence such as VA treatment records, private medical records, and/or statements from family and friends describing how the veteran’s disability affects them.
One problem that many elderly veterans may run in to is locating and obtaining their service records. Obtaining service records for elderly veterans can be especially difficulty due to a fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in 1973 that destroyed millions of official military service records. The VA is required to assist veterans in obtaining their service records, but it’s important for a veteran to make sure the VA has notified all potential locations of service records. The following is a list of organizations that may have service records:
- The NPRC
- The United States Army and Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRRC): The JSRRC works to find military records in support of veterans’ inquiries related to PTSD and Agent Orange VA disability claims.
- The National Archives and Record Administration (NARA): This is the official location were records for military personnel discharged from the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard are stored.
- The Naval Historical Center: This is the official center for historical information related to Navy military records, and includes information such as deck logs and ship histories which can be helpful in Agent Orange claims.
A veteran does not have to rely solely on service records for evidence of an in-service event; they can also use lay evidence such as buddy statements. However, elderly veterans may find it difficult to obtain this kind of evidence as well. For example, elderly veterans’ fellow service members might no longer be alive, or might suffer from memory loss.
The process involved with getting VA disability benefits often requires a veteran to go to VA offices and medical centers. Many times these visits are mandatory such as appearing at Compensation and Pension Exams (C&P exams). If a veteran does not show up for a C&P exam, the VA can reduce or even take away their benefits. Even worse is the fact that the VA doesn’t provide transportation to their facilities. However, there are regulations that allow for veterans to get a transportation allowance or a reimbursement for transportation costs. For example, 38. C.F.R. § 21.154 that states, “a veteran who because of the effects of disability has transportation expenses in addition to those incurred by persons not so disabled, shall be provided a transportation allowance to defray such additional expenses.”
The Slow Process
Perhaps one of the most serious issues facing the elderly veteran population is the length of time it takes the VA to complete the disability claim appeal process. Some Regional Offices are so backlogged that they’re up to 2 years behind on deciding veterans’ appeals. The Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) is even more backlogged. Appeals at the BVA are taking up to 3 years to get decide. The problem is, elderly veterans don’t always have time on their side. In fact, a study cited in a research article discussing issues facing the elderly veteran population stated “approximately 3,000 veterans die each year with their disability compensation claims still mired in some stage of the agency’s adjudication process.”
Claims can be expedited due to advanced, but the VA’s regulations state that a veteran must be 85 years or older in order for their claim to receive priority processing. If a veteran is under 85 years old, their claim can still be expedited due to other factors such as financial hardship, or being terminally ill. For more information on expediting claims, click here.
Unfortunately, many elderly veterans might not benerealize the extent of VA benefits they are entitled to, or they might be completely unaware of benefits they may be eligible for. Elderly veterans may be entitled to receive additional compensation on top of any service-connected compensation they’re already receiving. Also, elderly veterans may be entitled to different health care programs tailored to their needs. The following is a list of some common benefits and health care programs that elderly veterans may be entitled to:
- Aid and Attendance: available for veterans are require help with performing daily functions, are bedridden, a patient in a nursing home, or are blind.
- Housebound: available for veterans that are confined to their home because of a permanent disability
- Adult Day Health Care: this is a day program that provides recreation, companionship, and health care services such as care from nurses, therapists, social workers, etc.
- Home Based Primary Care: this program is for veterans with complex health care needs which are not being met by routine clinic-based care. A VA doctor will supervise a team that provides health care in the veteran’s home.
- Homemaker and Home Health Aide: available for veterans who need assistance with activities of daily living.
- Palliative Care: this involves helping veterans (and their families) manage their illness with a plan of care that focuses on relief of suffering and control of symptoms.
- Hospice Care: available for veterans who have terminal conditions with less than 6 months to live.
- Skilled Home Health Care: this is a short-term service for veteran’s that are homebound or live far away from the VA. Care is provided by a local community based health agency that contracts with the VA.
- Respite Care: this service provides a person to come to a veteran’s home while the veteran’s primary caregiver takes a break.
- Telehealth: allows a veteran’s doctor or nurse to monitor the veteran’s condition remotely using home monitoring equipment.
- Veteran Directed Care: available for veterans in need of skilled services, case management, or assistance with activities of daily living. This program allows for a veteran to customize a health care plan that best meets their needs.
For more details on the above benefits and health care programs, click here.