WASHINGTON (Dec. 4, 2013) – Veterans, their families and survivors receiving disability compensation and pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs will receive a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase in their monthly payments beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
“We’re pleased there will be another cost-of-living increase for Veterans, their families and their survivors,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “The increase expresses in a tangible way our Nation’s gratitude for the sacrifices made by our service-disabled and wartime Veterans.”
For the first time, payments will not be rounded down to the nearest dollar. Until this year, that was required by law. Veterans and survivors will see additional cents included in their monthly compensation benefit payment.
For Veterans without dependents, the new compensation rates will range from $130.94 monthly for a disability rated at 10 percent to $2,858.24 monthly for 100 percent. The full rates are available at www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/rates-index.asp.
The COLA increase also applies to disability and death pension recipients, survivors receiving dependency and indemnity compensation, disabled Veterans receiving automobile and clothing allowances, and other benefits.
Under federal law, cost-of-living adjustments for VA’s compensation and pension must match those for Social Security benefits. The last adjustment was in January 2013 when the Social Security benefits rate increased 1.7 percent.
In fiscal year 2013, VA provided over $59 billion in compensation benefits to nearly 4 million Veterans and survivors, and over $5 billion in pension benefits to more than 515,000 Veterans and survivors.
For Veterans and separating Servicemembers who plan to file an electronic disability claim, VA urges them to use the joint DoD/VA online portal, eBenefits. Registered eBenefits users with a premium account can file a claim online, track the status, and access a variety of other benefits, including pension, education, health care, home loan eligibility, and vocational rehabilitation and employment programs.
For more information about VA benefits, visit www.benefits.va.gov, or call 1-800-827-1000.
#2014COLA #VAbenefits #veteransbenefits
Patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics are 33 percent more likely to die from accidental overdoses of medications than the general population, CBS News has found.
The report focused on the case of a 35-year old Army veteran, Scott MacDonald, who was proscribed a cocktail of seven different medications for pain and psychiatric conditions, including narcotics like Percocet and Vicodin – both opiate derivatives.
According to CBS’s reporting, sources within the VA are saying that VA officials have been encouraging doctors to sign off on painkiller and other medications – including narcotics – on patients they don’t see. In the short run, the practice actually saves money, because patients with enough painkillers tend to make fewer appointments and consume fewer health care services.
In the long run, however, doctors signing off on these assembly line prescriptions are putting patients at risk of opiate or prescription medicine addiction and a host of negative side effects, including accidental fatal overdose.
The CBS report builds on earlier reporting from a local NBC affiliate in Ohio, which found that the number of unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ohio tripled between 2001 and 2011. Furthermore, an earlier study published in the Journal of Psychiatry found that veterans had a significantly elevated risk of death due to accidental overdose compared to the general population nationwide.
In 2010, Dr. Pamela Gray, then a VA physician, became concerned because, as she states, VA officials were asking her and other doctors to sign off on continuing narcotics prescriptions on patients they had not even seen, much less evaluated. She took her concerns to Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), who in turn had the VA launch an investigation. Gray subsequently lost her job – she says because she blew the whistle, though the VA cites poor communications skills as the reason she no longer practices at the VA. However, according to reporting by the Virginian Pilot, the VA’s own internal investigation mostly cleared themselves of wrongdoing, though four of the fifteen physicians interviewed said they, too, had been asked to write prescriptions for patients they had not seen. The VA Inspector General’s office wrote that there was, indeed, a perception of pressure to write narcotics prescriptions and an expectation of retaliation against any doctor who failed to do so.
At the same time media reports are highlighting the possible overreliance on psychoactive medications such as anti-psychotics in more general settings.
Hiring Our Heroes, an organization that works in concert with the Chamber of Commerce to help employers connect with transitioning military members, military spouses and veterans, has announced its dates and locations for September 2013 workshops and career fairs.
The dates are as follows:
- September 4, 2013 – Beaufort, SC
- September 5, 2013 – Quantico, VA Military Spouse Hiring Fair
- September 9, 2013 – West Point, NY Military Spouse Networking Event
- September 10, 2013 – Charlotte, NC
- September 10, 2013 – Peekskill (Camp Smith), NY
- September 10, 2013 – Tucson, AZ
- September 12, 2013 – Provo, UT
- September 12, 2013 – Boise, ID
- September 12, 2013 – Trenton, NJ
- September 12, 2013 – JBLM, WA Military Spouse Hiring Fair
- September 17, 2013 – Baton Rouge, LA
- September 17, 2013 – Portsmouth, NH
- September 19, 2013 – Lewiston, ME
- September 19, 2013 – Richmond, VA
- September 19, 2013 – Camp Pendleton, CA
- September 19, 2013 – Los Angeles, CA – Tracks to Success
- September 20, 2013 – Spokane, WA
- September 25, 2013 – Morgantown, WV
- September 26, 2013 – Sidney, OH
- September 26, 2013 – Cheyenne, WY
- October 1, 2013 – Little Rock, AR
- October 1, 2013 – Northampton, MA
- October 2, 2013 – Ann Arbor, MI
- October 3, 2013 – Baltimore, MD
- October 4, 2013 – Charlotte, NC
Click on the city name for more information about locations near you.
Most fairs require registration in advance. Read the fine print carefully. Hiring Our Heroes requests that those participating in the career fair also participate in the workshops as well.
In the latest of a series of revelations that have racked the Internal Revenue Service, the American Legion is reporting that it has been singled out by the IRS for unusually strict reporting requirements. Specifically, the IRS has told the American Legion that it must maintain dates of service and eligibility records for all their members. Failure to do so, and to make this information available to IRS auditors, will result in a fine of $1,000 per day, according to reporting from the Daily Caller.
The IRS has been under fire for several months after information surfaced that showed that the IRS department specializing in tax-exempt organizations – a Cincinnati office under the direction of Lois Lerner, had been illegally singling out conservative and Tea Party organizations by holding up their applications for tax-exempt status, and by ordering them to comply with extensive questionnaires and unusual documentation requests. In at least one case, the IRS ordered one conservative organization to describe the content of the organization’s prayers.
Meanwhile, applications from liberal organizations likely to be supportive of the Obama Administration were fast-tracked, with relatively little or no scrutiny.
The Daily Caller story provoked outrage among conservatives, including this op-ed in the Investors Business Daily excoriating the Obama Administration and the IRS for targeting veterans.
It turns out that this is not the first time the American Legion has found itself in hot water with the IRS. A number of posts in the Central Atlantic area came under scrutiny in 1995, as a result of a number of issues, among them:
- Illegal gambling operations
- Failure to pay taxes on revenues from the sale of alcohol and gambling revenues, which the IRS held was not part of the public mission of the organization.
- Failure to pay taxes on revenues from Bingo games, which were not restricted to members but were open to the public.
- Granting ‘social memberships’ to individuals who were not armed services veterans.
- Not reporting revenues from unrelated business activities such as renting Legion halls to outside groups.
The IRS audited at least 29 separate VFW and American Legion posts at that time, looking to uncover irregularities like these.
While the IRS itself is not commenting on any specific cases, the question of ‘social memberships’ appears to be in play. These are memberships the organization grants to non-veterans, for whatever reason. While IRS rules do allow for the participation of spousal auxiliary organizations in VFW and American Legion activities, the excess granting of social memberships to non-qualified members appears to have become an issue – hence the new requirement for posts to keep records of members and their proof of service.
Specifically, in order to qualify for tax-exempt status allowed to veterans’ organizations, the American Legion, VFW and other similar organizations have to show that at least 75 percent of their members are past or present members of the Armed Forces of the United States, and that 97.5 percent must be:
a. Present or former members of the U.S. Armed Forces;
b. Cadets (including only students in college or university ROTC programs or at Armed Services academies) or
c. Spouses, widows, widowers, ancestors or lineal descendants of individuals referred to in (a) or (b).
More broadly, the IRS appears to be cracking down on something called unrelated business income. In a nutshell, if a tax-exempt organization operates a trade or business that is not directly related to its mission, that is considered unrelated business income and is subject to income tax. For example, if an American Legion post operates a military museum, and charges admission to the museum to raise money, this is directly related to the organization’s educational and community service charter. But if it operates a bingo game, or a restaurant – especially if the bingo game or restaurant is open to the public – then the income generated from that activity is generally taxable.
The IRS does this so that business enterprises run by tax-exempt organizations – whether operated by churches, veterans’ organizations or the Rotary Club – do not get an unfair advantage over taxable private enterprises.
However, the IRS has specifically issued guidance to veterans groups that gambling operations can be considered appropriate activities for Section 501(c)19 organizations, provided the gambling is limited to members of the post and their guests – and provided the member pays all of the guests’ expenses. (More information is available in IRS Publication 3079 – Gaming Publication for Tax-Exempt Organizations.
The IRS has had its credibility severely damaged in recent months, however, thanks to the corruption in the Cincinnati office overseeing applications for tax-exempt status. Furthermore, veterans broke strongly against Obama in the last two elections. Is this latest dust-up with the American Legion part of that same effort? It’s difficult to say for certain. Just because the American Legion has had tax issues in the past does not mean they weren’t improperly targeted for special scrutiny by Lois Lerner and her staff at the IRS office in Cincinnati. However, it is also true that just because the IRS may have improperly targeted veterans’ groups, that doesn’t mean that the American Legion and other veterans groups don’t have some sticky tax issues, either.
Even the best-made plans can go awry, and even the most organized of us can sometimes be caught by surprise. Some people are motivated by challenges – so when things are running smoothly, they are easily distracted. Others, when faced with obstacles, need a little support to get over the bumps in the road.
The great industrialist and automobile pioneer Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right.” The difference maker that can change your attitude is gut-strength.
In their book Heart, Smarts, Guts, & Luck, authors Anthony K. Tjan, Richard J. Harrington and Tsun-Yan Hsieh define one of the characteristics of successful businesspeople or entrepreneurs as “guts-dominant.” Guts–dominant people are not only the people who have an idea, but they’re willing to take action on it, endure trials and tribulations to keep it alive, and evolve as necessary to see that idea come to life.
When you have guts, you take action. You are resilient. You are accountable. And you get things done. This is a concept our military students and veterans know quite well; they are people who have a vision, make a plan, take action, measure results and adjust accordingly.
How can you tell if you are gut-strong?
When you encounter an obstacle, do you stop in your tracks, unable to fully function because you are analyzing every possible outcome (repeatedly)? Or do you briefly consider your options then take a decisive action? Gut strong people take action.
Are you willing to make tough decisions and accept the outcome? Notice this is not the same thing as blindly forging ahead and damning the torpedoes – that isn’t strength, that’s carelessness. Gut-strong people accept responsibility and consequences for their actions.
If you’re saying to yourself, “But I don’t have any of these qualities,” think again.
You’ve already made a tough decision: You’ve decided to earn your degree. The responsibilities attached to this are substantial – you’ve got to do the work to gain the prize. If you have a family, work, or other commitments as well, you must work out a way to honor those too. That takes resilience and – you guessed it – gut strength.
You can bet that the ride won’t be smooth. But it will be worth it. The experience and knowledge you gain will propel you toward your goals, and the sense of achievement and confidence you earn will stay with you throughout your life.
Ms. Shelly has spent more than a decade working in higher education. She currently serves as executive vice president for Grantham Education Corporation. Ms. Shelly is passionate about changing lives – about making college education accessible and affordable to more people and preparing students and graduates for success.
Looking to get a big leg up in your post-military career? The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers a little-known program that may help some of you buy and own a house at 50 percent off.
The Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program
The Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program (GNND) was designed to get good people into struggling neighborhoods. The program provides a subsidy to any qualifying law enforcement officer, teacher, firefighter or emergency medical technician who wants to purchase a one-unit, single-family home in a specially-designated “enterprise zone.”
For law enforcement officers, you can qualify if you are a full-time officer of a state, local or federal agency sworn to uphold the law and empowered to make arrests.
For teachers, you can participate if you are a full-time teacher at a state-accredited public or private school teaching grades Pre-K through grade 12. However, the school must serve students from the area in which you are buying your home.
If you fall into one of the categories above, you can get a 50 percent discount on the appraised value of the home. You must, however, commit to living in the home for at least 36 months.
If you qualify for any FHA-insured mortgage program, all you need is a $100 down payment. That’s a far sight less than the 3.5 percent down payment usually required on FHA loans, though, admittedly, the loan-to-value on the program is only 50 percent, so it’s not like they’re taking a huge risk.
However, you do need to make an ‘earnest money’ deposit of 1 percent of the purchase price, not less than $500 and not more than $2,000. If your offer is accepted, this money is credited to you at closing (so in reality, you need to have a bit more than $100 in cash to close on a home under this program).
If your offer is rejected, your earnest money deposit is returned. However, if your offer is accepted, but fail to close the sale on your end, you forfeit your earnest money.
You can also use a VA loan with the GNND program, if you like, or a conventional mortgage, or just buy the home for cash.
How it works
If you buy a home worth, say, $100,000, you will actually sign two notes for $50,000 each. One you pay off. The other one you make no payments on as long as you live in the home. After 36 months, you have no further obligation on the 2nd mortgage.
What homes are eligible?
Eligible homes are any single-unit family residential home located in a Revitalization Area designated by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. This includes stand-alone houses, condos and townhomes. It doesn’t include a duplex or quad designed for you to live in one and rent out the other units, though.
Any other criteria?
Yes. You cannot own another piece of property during the 36-month residency period. You cannot have owned a home for a one year period prior to your move-in date.
There’s no price haggling. You must offer the HUD list price to qualify for the 50 percent discount offer under the Good Neighbor Next-Door program.
Do you have to stay on the job?
No. Once you close on the loan, there’s no requirement on HUD’s part for you to remain in the profession that made you eligible. You just have to keep living in the home for 36 months.
If you move out, you’ll have to repay a pro-rated amount. 1/36th of the second mortgage – the one on which you make no payments – is forgiven for every month you live in the home.
A 66-year old Vietnam War veteran from Stafford, Connecticut has been charged with defrauding veterans and their families of thousands of dollars since 2009. According to prosecutors, John J. “Buzzy” Simon told several veterans or their family members that he would help them maximize their VA benefits or get other money from the government. Allegedly, Simon took a fee in advance for his services, but never provided any assistance or services to these families.
Prosecutors also assert that Simon falsely represented himself as a service officer with Disabled American Veterans.
Simon was charged with mail fraud, which carries a potential sentence of 20 years. He was released on a $50,000 bond.