Ask or you may not receive

“The American Legion kicks butt” ... or words to that effect.

That’s the message a young woman shared with me about the difficulties she encountered while trying to access her veterans benefits. She told me that an American Legion service officer helped her navigate the process.

That discussion, and a recent survey revealing that less than 20 percent of veterans or their surviving spouses acknowledged receiving any information on VA benefits in the past year, prompted me to explain some of what’s available. You’ve earned the benefits, so you should at least understand what they are.

Veterans pension
This monthly tax-free benefit is available to veterans and survivors with limited means. Eligibility and the available benefit are based on a veteran’s income, deductible medical expenses and family status.

Aid & Attendance and Housebound
Those who are eligible for the pension and require assistance to perform daily activities, or who are confined to their homes, may be eligible for increased amounts.

VA home loans
I wrote about this benefit earlier this summer. It’s one I’ve used several times. Being able to buy a home without a down payment and no private mortgage insurance is nice.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
I’m surprised at how often I run into surviving spouses who aren’t aware of this program. Generally, this tax-free monthly benefit is available to survivors who have lost loved ones from disease or injury while on active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability. In 2014, the basic monthly rate is $1,233.

Burial benefits
Eligible veterans can be buried in a national cemetery, and receive a burial flag, military honors and even a headstone or marker for use at any cemetery. There are more than 70 national cemeteries open for interments. Also, in certain situations VA will provide burial or internment allowances.

Home improvements and structural alterations VA provides benefits of up to $6,800 to help build ramps, lower sinks and counters or otherwise improve access
to homes.

Nursing home care
VA has three main programs to provide nursing home care. You have to be enrolled in the VA system to access them, and priority goes to those with a service-connected disability rating of 70 percent or higher.

Caregiver programs and services
VA has a host of programs to offer care, provide caregiver training and even compensate those who provide care for veterans.

Of course, this is just the beginning in terms of information, but if you or someone you know could benefit from these services, look into them. Go online to, or seek out the help of an American Legion service officer. In an uncertain world, here’s a sure bet: you won’t benefit if you don’t apply.

J.J. Montanaro is a certified financial planner for USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for him online.

This material is for informational purposes. Consider your own financial circumstances carefully before making a decision and consult with your tax, legal or estate planning professional. USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its insurance, banking, investment and other companies. Banks Member FDIC. Investments provided by USAA Investment Management Company and USAA Financial Advisors Inc., both registered broker dealers. USAA Financial Planning Services® refers to financial planning services and financial advice provided by USAA Financial Planning Services Insurance Agency, Inc. (known as USAA Financial Insurance Agency in California), a registered investment adviser and insurance agency and its wholly owned subsidiary, USAA Financial Advisors, Inc., a registered broker dealer. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and Certified Financial Planner TM in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.

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