Archive for the 'VA Benefits' Category

Monetizing Your Benefits

Dec 27 2013

I don’t intend to be a shameless shill in this post. I actually intend to explain monetary issues behind Service and veteran benefits that are of primary interest to you. Unfortunately, to provide the later I’ll risk coming across as the former.

militaryI hear it all the time as I travel and meet people; “What good are you associations and why would I ever want to join?” My answer to their question provides a nice summary of the evolution of some our military and veteran benefits from a financial point of view. Here’s my answer for the benefit of those who ask the above question and for those of you who also get asked this question and want to compare answers.

First off, membership matters. Membership means power on Capitol Hill. 37 million members are why AARP gets attention.

Here is a selection of benefits won through lobbying efforts since 2001 and the resulting financial impacts. This is why membership matters.

  • Tricare for Life (TFL). Tricare now acts as our Medicare supplement. Most beneficiaries rarely see a doctor’s bill due to the Medicare-Tricare partnership. Compared to before TFL, substantial money is being saved on medical bills and by not having to buy a Medicare Supplement plan. Combined with the Tricare pharmacy plan, thousands of dollars are saved by retired veterans’ families.
  • Post 9-11 GI Bill. For currently serving members, this education program can be transferred to family members. This program pays for tuition, fees, books and housing. This benefit is worth the value of a college degree and more.
  • Currently serving pay increases. We estimate currently serving members get 14% more income now versus what they would have received with no lobbying efforts. Higher currently serving income translates to greater retirement pay later.
  • Concurrent Receipt; Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) and Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC). These programs restore earned Service retired pay due to years of service that used to be denied to retirees because they accepted VA compensation for disabilities. In other words, it replaces some or all of what the VA Waiver takes away.
  • Tricare Prime, Standard and TFL fee increases—or I should say lack of fee increases. We aren’t paying substantially higher fees for Tricare Prime, Standard and TFL that the DOD would have us pay.
  • Survivor Benefit Program. Survivors are no longer denied benefits due to Social Security retirement eligibility. Survivors with the VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) also get the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA).

This is a short list of successes for us. The actual list of military and veteran issues is much greater.

The issues related to the currently serving are of extra significance to us. That is because for one thing they have been bearing the brunt of the war efforts for the last dozen years. Next is because the senior officials in the DOD don’t speak for the troops. The leaders look to find budget cuts by gutting the members’ benefits rather than by finding efficiencies and implementing the reforms necessary within their bloated, ineffective bureaucracies. It’s easier playing politics and taking the path of least resistance. After all, the troops won’t (can’t) disagree.

Generally, associations say what the members in uniform can’t say. We fight for people in uniform and their families. Many Service members won’t join associations partly because of a lack of awareness in what we have accomplished for them or because of misguided loyalty to their leadership on issues regarding their benefits. This isn’t throwing stones at anyone; it’s just what it is. And we understand because we’ve walked in their shoes–their focus is their mission and organization as it should be. We blame ourselves for not getting the real message out better.

The irony is that so many of the Service members think their chain of command is fighting for them. Yet the Service leadership has sought and won reduced pay raises, higher health care fees, reduced cost of living increases in retired pay, and they want to radically overhaul the retirement system to a TSP-based program and a greatly reduced pension benefit that won’t be collected until old age. All in the name of a budget that they say is out of control because the troops want too much and cost too much. Don’t believe it. It’s all, “Tell me what you want to accomplish and I’ll get you the data to back it up.” wool over your eyes.

And when I use the term “association”, I’m not talking all Service/veteran associations. It’s buyer beware out there. Some are propping up the DOD establishment so shop around wisely.

How many more issues could be fixed if we had more solidarity? How much more damage could be prevented? If you wore a uniform, it’s our duty as former leaders to speak up for those who can’t speak.

Not eligible for membership in MOAA? Consider joining Voices for America’s Troops, a subsidiary organization of MOAA, to help support veterans, servicemembers and their families. You can find more information at voicesfortroops.org.

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Clearing the Confusion on Post 9-11 GI Bill Transfer Option

Sep 11 2013

As I conduct classes on the Post 9-11 GI Bill (P911GIB) on bases, I find there is still confusion about the rules to transfer the benefit. Here is a quick reference guide.

Transferring the P911GIB to family members is an option controlled by the DOD. It can be turned on or off. Currently there are no discussions about turning the option off but realize the option isn’t permanent.

DOD is using the transfer option as a retention tool. Transfer your benefit and you have to agree to stay in the Service for 4 more years.

During the transition period in the early years of Post 9-11 GI Bill implementation, the following table provided the few exceptions to the 4-year commitment.  However, the transition provisions expired 1 Aug 2013 so all must agree to serve 4 years now.

The following was the transition implementation conditions in case you hear about this policy and want to compare then and now.

First, what month and year did you complete 20 years of service? For Guard or Reserves, what did your Notice of Eligibility for retirement letter state as your month and year for 20 years? Take that month and year and plug it into this chart to figure what your service commitment would have been. If you aren’t on this chart, you would have served 4 years as of the date you transfer the benefit.

gibillclearBecause of the retention policy being used by the DOD, it means you have to be currently serving to transfer any or all of the benefit otherwise you can’t be retained. All you folks already out of the Service, separated or retired, can’t transfer. There are no waivers. You folks in the Guard or Reserves do not have to be on active duty orders to transfer but you do have to be serving to transfer. Check this site if you have specific Service related questions about the service commitment–scroll down the page.

If you want to fight for the transfer after you are out of the Service, good luck. The only possible remedy is with the Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR). Search on line for the BCMR application procedures. Chances are slim to none.

The date you transfer the benefit starts the clock on the service commitment. You probably want to transfer some benefits immediately if you think transferring the benefit might be a possibility for you in the future. Start the commitment clock sooner rather than later. Transfer a month to each beneficiary just to establish the transferred benefit and you can move months of benefit around among family members later if you want. You serve one service commitment for the first transfer. You do not serve separate commitments for each transfer afterwards.

What if you are restricted from serving a full 4-year commitment? You can still transfer benefits, even if you are restricted from serving four additional years due to DOD/Service policy or by law, as long as you agree to serve for the maximum amount of time allowed by such policy or law.

To transfer your P911GIB benefit, you must have a minimum of 6 years of service to transfer to your spouse and a minimum of 10 years of service to transfer to your children.

As a military member, or your spouse, you have 15 years to use the benefit starting after you leave the Service. Children do not have the 15-year time limit, they have until age 26. The child retains the benefit even after marriage as long as the marriage occurred after the transfer. A child must be 18 years old or a high school or equivalent graduate to use the benefit.

Spouses of active duty members do not get the housing allowance. All other spouses do. All children get the housing allowance.

Once some benefit has been transferred, the ability to change or revoke the benefit amount among family members always resides with the military member. Even after separation or retirement from Service, a member can manage the benefit amounts among the family members; more, less or completely take the benefit away from someone. You just cannot add new beneficiaries after separation or retirement.

P911GIB benefits always belong to the military member even during/after a divorce. P911GIB benefits are not considered marital property or an asset of a marital estate. The benefits are not subject to division in a divorce or other civil proceeding.

Dependents you acquire after separation/retirement from the Service are not eligible for transfer benefits.

You can transfer benefit only to family members registered in DEERS. Transfer benefits before your children age out of DEERS.

Have you used some of your Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) or other military education benefits? Be careful and get help from the VA if you plan to transfer. When you transfer your P911GIB benefit to a family member, your months of benefit available for transfer are probably going to be limited to the amount of MGIB, or other educational program, you have remaining. Find out your amount of benefit months available for transfer before you actually transfer benefits. Example:

You started with 36 months of MGIB but used 18 months of it. If you transfer P911GIB benefits to your family members, you will have only 18 months of benefit available for transfer. If you used up 36 of MGIB, you may still be eligible for 12 more months of P911GIB to transfer.

There are a lot of moving parts to the P911GIB. The VA web site is very good and has many details to help you manage your benefits. I suggest you spend some time with the site and learn just how helpful it can be. There are step by step directions on how to manage and the use the benefits. See http://www.gibill.va.gov/.

Places to get help include a Veteran Service Officer, the Veteran Office or Financial Aid office at the school where you intend to attend or the base education office. The P911GIB hotline number is (888) 442-4551.

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CFPB Advice: Beware Government Logos

Dec 13 2012

Just because something has a government logo on it doesn’t mean that it’s legitimate. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that it is cracking down on two mortgage loan modification operations that allegedly ripped-off struggling homeowners using websites, emails, and other advertising materials with government logos.

Mortgage assistance and foreclosure relief scams are designed to take your money. They often use mail or email designed with emblems, logos and names intended to mimic government agencies or programs, lawyers or law firms, or legitimate creditors. Unfortunately, scammers are also constantly re-inventing new ways to scam struggling homeowners.

For helpful tips on how to spot mortgage assistance scams and where to find real help, check out the posting on our page http://www.facebook.com/CFPBMilitary

Help CFPB reach every servicemember, veteran, and family member using social media channels by encouraging them to follow our posts on http://www.Facebook.com/CFPBMilitary  and follow CFPB on http://www.Twitter.com/CFPBMilitary.

 

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A Survivor Benefit—Arming Your Spouse with Knowledge

Aug 09 2012

From your days in uniform, when the boss gave you a task, any reason the task wasn’t accomplished as expected was met by the rebuke, “No excuses!” There’s no excuse for leaving a spouse unprepared to cope with life after the death of the military spouse.

I’m sure I’m speaking to a limited audience when I state there are military members leaving behind helpless survivors. We hear from only a sampling of the survivors left in the dark. But from the stories we hear, some are surprising to say the least. I wonder, and worry about, the ones we don’t hear from.

How will your spouse survive when you are gone? What programs do they need to know about? What agencies do they need to deal with? And most importantly, what will be their sources of income?

I find it hard to believe but survivors have called MOAA trying to find sources of income. The survivor goes from plenty of income when the military member is alive to a single Social Security check after the member’s death. Please discuss how your spouse will pay the bills, buy food, and have a life after you’re gone.

There are also survivors who find out after the member’s death, the SBP won’t be 55% of full retired pay. Many find the SBP will be 55% of a fraction of the military pay because the member covered only a small portion of the military retirement check.

Here are some suggestions…

First off, your survivor will need several months’ worth of cash to pay the bills and live on after your death. It will be months before other sources of income start—the government runs on its own schedule.

Second, have your retirement orders or DD 214 readily available.

Next:

  • Go over the accounts you own. Banks, investment firms, insurance companies…
  • What programs you have with the VA. Disability compensation, life insurance, your spouse’s potential eligibility for survivor’s benefits, transferred education benefits.
  • Issues with your military retiree pay agent, like DFAS. Pay in Arrears, Survivor Benefit Plan.
  • Bills you owe, credit cards, outstanding loans, when things are due. Companies involved.
  • Contact info for lawyers, financial and insurance advisers, the VA, your military pay agent.
  • Explain Social Security and medical plans with contact information.
  • Property tax, motor vehicle issues at the local, county and state levels.
  • Military ID card office and update requirements.
  • If you worked as a federal civilian, contacts to the civilian personnel office and programs you are enrolled in.
  • Do you have a Thrift Savings Account or another pension?
  • Wills, powers of attorney, medical directives, burial details.

You get the picture. MOAA has publications to help you bring the issues together, develop a game plan and provide a written record of your situation. You can download our publications on-line from http://www.moaa.org/infoexchange/ (must be logged-in to the MOAA as a member to access the pubs) or call our Member Service Center to order at (800) 234-6622.

Key publications include our Survivor’s Checklist, Burial Guide, our Personal Affairs and Estate Planning workbooks, and our ‘Help Your Survivors Now’ handbook.

You can call MOAA for guidance and appropriate contacts. If you associate with a MOAA local chapter, your spouse might even get help with some paperwork. But we don’t provide a source of income for survivors.

If it were you, wouldn’t you prefer to be armed with a plan before the grief of your spouse’s death? With information, you wouldn’t feel so helpless because you would have a handle on the situation.

No excuses.

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Beware Scam Emails That Appear To Be Sent By DFAS Employees

Apr 10 2012

Published by under Taxes,VA Benefits

Cross-posted from the MOAA Message Center blog

ALERT FROM DFAS:

There are emails being sent to individuals, including military members, military retirees, and civilian employees, which appear to be sent by a DFAS employee. Although the email appears to come from a DFAS employee and displays a dot mil address it is actually from a non-government email account. This is an example of what’s called “spoofing.”

The emails indicate that individuals who are receiving disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may be able to obtain additional funds from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These emails are not issued by DFAS and will likely result in a financial loss if you comply with the suggestions in the email. Bottom line – do not send your personal information or copies of your tax returns and 1099s to the individual listed in the email.

The email indicates that individuals receiving VA disability compensation can receive additional funds from the IRS. The email states that such funds can be obtained by sending copies of your VA award letter, your income tax returns, your 1099-Rs, your RAS statements, and a copy of your DD 214, to a so-called retired Colonel at an address in Florida. Do NOT follow the suggestions in the email because you will be providing a significant amount of your personal information to a complete stranger, which could result in a financial loss to you.

The 1099-Rs that are issued by DFAS reflect only the taxable portion of a member’s retired pay. DFAS is not aware of any legal basis for the alleged additional funds that the IRS would supposedly pay over. By ignoring the email, you will avoid frustration, the release of personal information to a stranger, and the possibility of financial loss. If you have any questions or concerns about these or any other tax issues, you should contact a known, reputable tax consultant, tax attorney, or legal assistance officer for advice and assistance. Read our agency email policy that has been developed to protect customer privacy.

++++++++copy of text of scam email+++++++++++++

Sent: Thu, March 17, 2011 7:04:17 PM
Subject: FW: Income Tax

Sandra,

here you go!

I been informed that you can receive additional funds from IRS for SM who retired with 20 years of AFS, information required to receive this entitlement is as follows:

Copy of your VA award letter (note: if your VA rating has been increase within the last three years, you’ll need to send all
ratings).
Copies of your 1040’s for tax years: 08, 09 and 10
Any copy of your 1009R for year 08, 09 and 10
Copies of your RAS statements (Retired pay statements) for year 08, 09 and 10
Copy of your DD Form 214

This information should be mailed by Priority Mail to:
>
Willie Brooks
726 Mayflower Ave.
Ft. Walton Beach, FL 32547-3175
850-862-1673.

Mr. Brooks is a retired AF COL who worked for IRS and charges you 10% of what you receive. I have known of several within the AW2 program who has received from $8.000.00 to $19,000.00. See additional information concerning this matter.

Pass this on to any of your friends who has a VA rating and 20 or more years of AFS!

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