Veterans should pre-enroll for burial benefits


Updates in the news are provided for interested veterans, retirees and active duty service members.

· VA burial benefits — pre-enrollment:

Since first announced in December, more than 10,000 eligible veterans have taken advantage of a new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefit that allows them to pre-enroll for interment in a VA national cemetery, which means less paperwork that survivors will have to complete following their loved one’s death. Interested veterans can submit VA Form 40-10007, Application for Pre-Need Determination of Eligibility for Burial in a VA National Cemetery, and supporting documentation, such as a DD Form 214, if readily available, to the VA National Cemetery Scheduling Office by toll-free fax at 855-840-8299; email to Eligibility.PreNeed@va.gov; or by regular mail to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office, PO Box 510543, St. Louis, MO 63151.

Eligible individuals are entitled to burial in any open VA national cemetery, opening-closing of the grave, a grave liner, perpetual care of the gravesite and a government-furnished headstone or marker or niche cover, all at no cost to the family. Veterans also are eligible for a burial flag and may be eligible for a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Information on VA burial benefits is available from local VA national cemetery offices, from the internet at www.cem.va.gov or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 800-827-1000. To make burial arrangements at any open VA national cemetery at the time of need, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.

As we mentioned previously, burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. may be limited to combat veterans only in the near future.

· U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs accountability:

Firing Offense: Democrats are constantly bleating about the need to better serve the nation’s veterans. Yet when it comes down to it, they would rather bow to their union masters than allow the VA to fire workers who aren’t doing their jobs. The proof is the Democrats’ fervent opposition to a simple reform being pushed by Republicans — the VA Accountability First Act. This bill would let the Veterans Affairs secretary fire someone and not have to wait a month for the person to actually be fired. It would also let the VA cut the pensions for those convicted of a felony, and reclaim bonuses from those fired. The bills — H.R.611/S.152 — got some needed momentum after a VA worker was caught watching porn while with a patient.

VA Secretary David Shulkin wanted him fired immediately, only to learn that the worker is entitled to spend a month — at taxpayer expense — on desk duty before being shown the door.

“I need the authority as secretary to remove these people immediately,” Shulkin said.

Even so, the bill is just a tiny step toward improving this dangerously dysfunctional agency, which three years ago was embroiled in a scandal over excessively long wait times for veterans seeking health care and efforts by executives to cook the books to hide them. The VA has been impervious to reform largely because its workers know that it is almost impossible to fire anyone.

· Veteran benefit assistance:

It can be difficult navigating the government bureaucracy to obtain veterans disability and other benefits, but all it should cost you is time, not money. The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs recently advised veterans, active service members and their families not to pay for assistance to file paperwork that they can submit themselves or get free help with.

You can obtain free help or guidance from your county veterans affairs office, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and service organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans. Disability benefits are among the most well-known benefits offered by the federal government

I have previously stated that I believe that anyone filing for a benefit should consult a service officer with either a veteran service organization or with the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs because policy and procedures do change and if you file your claim on an incorrect form or in a way that is not acceptable to the VA, it will be denied.

· Lawmakers call for investigation of Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs:

Lawmakers are calling for an investigation and audit of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, citing a list of complaints about the agency’s policies and purchasing decisions. State Rep. Brian Renegar (D-McAlester) leads the group of representatives, including Vinita’s Chuck Hoskin, Owasso’s Dale Derby and Broken Arrow’s Mike Ritze, The Oklahoman reported.

At a press conference April 11, Renegar criticized a directive by the department to “lock up” heart monitoring machines and take out lab machines from the department’s centers.

“There is a move to decrease the level of care for our veterans and move our veteran centers to the level of care of nursing homes,” Renegar said.

The ODVA argued that the centers aren’t staffed with personnel qualified to analyze results from an electrocardiogram machine. It said a resident experiencing chest pains should be sent to an emergency room.

“Should ODVA’s budget be restored with the $10 million that it has lost in the last seven years, it could easily restore all the services that were once present, hire additional doctors, operate 24-hour lab services and many other luxuries that are currently not feasible,” the unsigned response noted.

The department has been under scrutiny for the health of veterans after the two high-profile deaths Owen Reese Peterson, 73, and Leonard Smith, 70, at the Talihina Veteran Center. Peterson died of sepsis and was found with maggots in his body. Smith, who had advanced dementia, choked to death.

Legislation failed in a House committee that would allow for the relocation of the Talihina Veterans Center. Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said an audit can’t be initiated based solely on a legislator’s request.

It is the opinion of some that the commissioners on the Oklahoma Veterans Commission are reluctant to make decisions and there are questions being asked as to why have recent hirings been to members of the Guard.

· Desert Storm Memorial:

Veterans of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm soon will soon have their own memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., thanks to legislation signed March 31 by the president. President Donald Trump signed Senate Joint Resolution 1, “A joint resolution approving the location of a memorial to commemorate and honor the members of the Armed Forces who served on active duty in support of Operation Desert Storm or Operation Desert Shield.”

The resolution was sponsored by U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) and designates the location of the memorial on the National Mall.

The legislation was introduced and passed by Congress this month and signed in the White House by the president.

· Burn Pit toxic exposure:

A new federal report said the data from an existing registry of troops’ downrange exposure to burn pits cannot be used to establish a link with health problems they are now experiencing, making it difficult to prove they are entitled to special benefits. Currently, veterans who have been exposed to burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq have to go through difficult and time-consuming processes to prove that their conditions are service-related. At stake are health care benefits, support for spouses and education benefits for children. Congress in 2013 mandated the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which was launched in 2014. It allows veterans to enter information about how much they were exposed to burn pits during their deployments and any subsequent health problems.

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Reach Ronald Pandos at rondo1339@yahoo.com.

Reach Ronald Pandos at rondo1339@yahoo.com.

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