Friday, June 28, 2013

Veterans Disability Attorney Applauds Efforts to Cut Taxes for Disabled Veterans

Jim Fausone
Veteran Disability Attorney

More states are pushing to give disabled vets a much-needed tax break.

In Michigan, State Senator Glenn Anderson (D-Westland) has introduced legislation to reduce taxes for his state's disabled vets. His latest bill, Senate Bill 104, would allow local governmental units to exempt vets who are 100 percent disabled from paying local property taxes. Sen. Anderson's bill is now going before the Senate Finance Committee.

"It is heartening to see lawmakers push to give our country's disabled vets a break to help them keep their homes," commented veterans disability attorney James Fausone.

Anderson stated that even if local communities wanted to give disabled vets the tax break, currently they cannot under state law. But vets who are 100 percent disabled often find it impossible to become gainfully employed in civilian life and face a number of financial hurdles. Anderson said that he believed many communities throughout the state of Michigan would be glad to waive local property taxes on primary residences for those vets as a way to thank them for their service and sacrifice. Senate Bill 104, co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, has widespread veteran advocate support from several veteran organizations.

Meanwhile, in Washington State, lawmakers have approved a tax exemption for disabled veterans in need of a vehicle modification. The senate unanimously voted to establish a tax benefit for disabled vets who need installation and/or repairs on any equipment to help them get into, out of or drive a car or truck. The measure would cost Washington State just over $60,000 over the next two years in tax revenue.

Connecticut is also considering a tax break for disabled vets. Senate Bill 383 is currently before General Assembly, awaiting the support of the state legislators. The bill would give a tax break to that state's bets disabled during service in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan.

And in New York State, more than 50 percent of the 14,000 vets in Chautauqua County have yet to apply for tax breaks which would save them at least several hundred dollars each year. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. has initiated a plan to support newly returned vets from Iraq and Afghanistan by ensuring they are getting the benefits to which they are entitled. He is pushing the VA to use a universal property tax exemption application for vets discharged from service and considering the purchasing of a home. He is also asking that social media helps spread the word to newly discharged vets that federal and state benefits are available to them, as the area's home buying season heats up.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Report Releases Best Online College Programs for Military Vets

Jim Fausone
Veteran Disability Attorney

Online learning can be a flexible, affordable way to earn a college degree, which may be why more vets than ever are looking at online education.

Vets are attending college as never before, in large part perhaps due to the unemployment numbers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment for vets between 18 and 24 was 30 percent in 2011, while unemployment was just 18 percent for ages 18 to 24 in the general population.

U.S. News & World Report released its premiere listing of online education programs for military vets. Almost fifty percent of vets return from service looking to further their education by enrolling in post-secondary schools. A large percentage of those vets, according to Student Veterans of America, attend online programs as a way to meet family and work obligations.
The online schools listed by U.S. News include a number of educational programs that award college credit for eligible students who have military experience. There were also schools listed that focus on flexibility for students who are taking courses with more than one school or program. U.S. News also ranked programs based on their graduation rates and the amount of debt students faced after graduation. Their ranking, said a U.S. News spokesperson, was not just based on the benefits of each program, but also based on overall quality of the program offerings.

The ten top online programs offering bachelor degrees in terms of quality, affordability and program selection, according to U.S. News, are offered by: Pace University; Charter Oak State College; Brandman University; Bellevue University; Regent University; University of Nebraska – Omaha; California Baptist University; Post University; Ball State University, and Fort Hays State University.

The ten top online Master of Business Administration programs, according to U.S. News,  are offered by: Central Michigan University; West Virginia University; Washington State University; Temple University; University of Nebraska – Lincoln; University of Mississippi; University of Colorado – Denver; University of Memphis (Fogelman);  Ball State University (Miller); and Columbia College.

The revised G.I. Bill covers college tuition of $280 per unit and three years of full-time school, and includes a book allowance of $500 as well as a basic housing allowance of up to $1,500 per month. The housing allowance is based on the cost of living in the nearest military installation. Vets with extended years of service can often transfer their own education benefits to be used by their immediate family members.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Military Sexual Assaults On the Rise

Jim Fausone
Veteran Disability Attorney

The military has been subject to a number of high profile sexual assault news items in recent weeks. Currently Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the Air Force's head of sexual assault prevention, is under investigation for allegedly groping a woman in North Virginia, while more than 30 Texas-based instructors with the Air Force are under investigation regarding assault charges against trainees.

Although military sexual assaults have been garnering increased attention due to these latest, high-profile news stories, according to the latest estimates, the majority of military sexual assaults still go unreported. There were possibly as many as 26,000 assaults in 2012, according to a new report released by the Pentagon.

Of the estimated 26,000 military members who may have been sexually assaulted in 2012, just over 3,300 made a report, and fewer than 800 sought assistance while declining to file a complaint. The victims of military sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact are usually young, low-ranking service members. The perpetrators are usually also in the armed forces.
Two House members, Reps. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass, and Mike Turner, R-Ohio, have proposed a bill that would strip officers of their authority to dismiss or change the court-martial conviction of sexual assault and other major cases, and would require the dismissal or dishonorable discharge of anyone found guilty of the attempt of or act of rape, sexual assault, or forcible sodomy. Their goal, said Turner, is to establish guidelines for the punishment for sexual assault convictions and to remove that punishment from the chain of command.

The Pentagon's report indicated that sexual assault reporting is on the rise, from an estimated 26,000 assaults in 2012 from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2011.   According to the report, at least 6 percent of the more than 1 million active duty members in 2012, both men and women, reported unwanted sexual contact. A significant percentage of the offenders were either Defense Department civilians or contractors or active military members.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has instructed military leaders to design a way to hold commanders accountable for fostering an environment of "dignity and respect," including a July 1 deadline to complete visual inspections of workspaces to ensure they do not include the display of degrading materials.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., recently introduced legislation which would prohibit sexual contact between instructors and trainees for the duration of basic training and for an additional 30 days after training is completed, and which would provide sexual assault victims with a lawyer advocate trained in sexual assault complaints, and which would make available to the National Guard and Reserve trained sexual assault response coordinators. Murphy stated that not only are service members failed by the system by having a climate in which assaults happen, but they are further failed by not having a support system in place for victims after the incident.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Overtime is the Solution

Jim Fausone
Veteran Disability Attorney

So it seems every week the VA offers a new plan to reduce the backlog.  Last week it was the requirement of mandatory overtime.  Everyone will be spending the summer working an extra 20 hours a month through September 30th.   At Legal Help for Veterans, PLLC, we often work long hours and Saturday mornings to keep up on the work.  My staff does it because they are dedicated and motivated to help veterans. 
The VA has taken the approach it must mandate overtime.   Under the plan, all 10,000-plus VA employees who process disability claims will be required to work at least 20 hours overtime each month.  We won’t speculate how this will impact morale.  I would hope that those employees do not take out missing the summer events on the veterans who have claims in the backlog.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

40 Year Tale

Jim Fausone
Veterans Disability Lawyer 

The largest group of veterans with claims pending are from the Vietnam era. It has been 40 years since the war ended and the tale of that war, which shows in disability claims, is still lengthening.  We can expect that the Iraq/Afghanistan tale to also be 40 years in the making with claims increasing until 2054.

VA officials recently blogged:

"In fact, about 60% of the 845,000 pending disability claims are from Veterans for whom VA has already completed at least one claim. About 78% of those Veterans are already receiving monetary compensation at some level—and about half of those are rated with at least a 50% disability, receiving $1000 or more monthly. The other 40% of the total inventory are from Veterans filing for the first time. This 60/40 percent split is roughly the same proportion for claims that have been pending more than 125 days—i.e. the backlog. Also, many people—including reporters covering the story—attribute the growing number of claims to the wind-down of current conflicts.

In reality, only one in five claims in the inventory come from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. The largest portion is actually from Vietnam-era Veterans. "

So veteran advocates, like the VA, have no shortage of work.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Appeals Wait Longer

Jim Fausone
Veteran Disability Lawyer

We work with over a 1000 veterans and most of those veterans are waiting on appeals of VA decisions.  The initial decision backlog at VA is  getting a lot of national attention.  A hidden story has finally made the national news.  That story is how long it takes to have an appeal heard of a VA denial of service connection or low rating by the regional office in an initial decision. So after waiting a year for that initial decision, the veteran can expect a multi year wait on an appeal.    At the first level, the Board of Veterans' Appeals in Washington, it takes an average of 1,040 days, almost 3 years,  for the agency to render a ruling. That's 3½ times slower than the response for those awaiting word on their initial filings.  The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently published an article on its study  of  4 years of data.  It found:

"Sifting through more than 160,0000 appeals from 2009 through early 2013, the Trib discovered 2,936 cases in which veterans or their surviving spouses died before getting decisions on their disputed claims.
If that rate holds, more than 500 veterans will die this year while their appeals languish — about one vet every 18 hours."

Some may dismiss this as only 1.8% of the cases.  But if it was your mother, father, brother or sister waiting on a decision to improve their quality of life, you would not think this way.  This story proves what many suspected -  VA denies and delays until you die. Our veterans deserve better.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Medicare Advantage for Veterans

Jim Fausone
Veterans Disability Attorney
If you are a veteran and obtain your health care from the VA, you may think there is no need for Medicare.  However if you qualify for Medicare, by age or disability, then you should obtain your Medicare card and use it to supplement your VA care. 
You should then look into Medicare Advantage.  14 million Americans are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, which covers hospital stays, doctor visits and other major medical needs. 
Obtaining a Medicare Advantage Plan will not only help you maximize the value you are receiving in benefits, but, in many cases, it will also help you achieve better health and well-being.
So if you want to know more about Medicare Advantage Plans, contact us at Legal Help for Veterans, PLLC.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Vet Driver’s License Designation

Matthew Worley, Esq.

As a small way to say to show gratitude to Michigan veterans, the Michigan Legislature recently passed and Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation creating a special veteran designation on state driver’s licenses.

The law allows Michigan veterans who were honorably discharged from service to receive the designation on their driver’s license. This will allow them to easily prove their status as a veteran allowing them to more easily obtain discounts and other benefits reserved for them.

The Secretary of State will begin processing requests for these licenses in one year after transitioning to a new computer system.  Adding the designation is voluntary and free of charge to Michigan veterans.

There is also a hope that when store clerks, bank tellers, and others see the designation, it will provide an opportunity for that person to thank the veteran for their service.  This new law is just a small way to increase awareness of the state’s nearly 700,000 veterans and remember the sacrifice each of them has made for this country.