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County service unravels VA benefits for veterans

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Guy Higgins listens as Teresa Ball of Pitt County Veterans Services presents “Unraveling the Myths About Veteran Benefits" at Pitt County Senior Center on April 17, 2017.

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Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Navigating the Veterans Administration process for benefits and services can be more challenging than the military service code for many veterans, especially older retired people.

Teresa Ball, who directs the Pitt County Veterans Service Agency, has encountered and guided veterans through the process for more than 20 years. If Ball doesn’t have the answers to any unusual questions or needs, she knows where to find them.

Ball responded to a request from the Pitt County Council on Aging and fielded a wide range of questions earlier this week from about 35 veterans and their spouses, discussing some of the services and benefits available for qualified veterans. Many in the audience were older than 65 and seeking VA benefits for the first time.

“Most veterans leave the service and enter the workforce young and healthy without a service-connected condition, so they are earning an income and receiving health and other benefits through their employers and don’t need the VA,” Ball said. “When they reach 65 or 70, many are living on Social Security and face the high cost of health insurance and prescriptions, so they begin to seek information about VA assistance.” 

The Veterans Administration separates its benefits for veterans, dependents and survivors into three primary categories of health care, non-health care, and burial and memorial benefits. A commonly sought benefit among young veterans is the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights. The bill, designed primarily to help servicemembers and eligible veterans cover the costs associated with getting an education or training and assistance with home financing, has several programs, each administered differently, depending on a person's eligibility and duty status, according to VA website information.

Veterans who are disabled, even partially, by injury or disease incurred or aggravated during active military service are eligible to apply for compensation, Ball said. They also might be eligible for varying levels of financial benefits if they have 90 days or more of active military service, one day of which was during an active period of war.

To qualify, the veteran must be totally and permanently disabled for reasons other than willful misconduct or be more than 65 years old, according to the information Ball shared.

Benefits, including pension allotments for surviving spouses of veterans with wartime service, also were discussed. Other topics included nursing home care, assisted living care, home loans, burial benefits and health care at Veterans Administration provider facilities. Some veterans asked about benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant used in Korea and Vietnam. Another common subject Ball hears questions about is hearing loss.

Tony Gallardo, 53, of Ayden served with the U.S. Marine Corps at Cherry Point Marine Air Station, where he worked on jet engines.

“Working around jet engines my whole career, I know I have hearing problems, and I know I need a test, maybe hearing aids,” Gallardo said. “I never thought about it much until friends told me I need to get established with the VA. I also just want to learn today about what’s generally available.”

The first priority for any veteran who wishes to pursue veterans’ benefits is to secure an original copy of military discharge papers, known as Form DD-214, Ball told the attendees. The form is the gateway to all eligible benefits.

“It’s important to make sure your loved ones know what this form is and where it is kept, so eligible death benefits can be provided,” she said. “One good idea is to take the form to the County Register of Deeds and have it registered there, in case your copy is lost.” 

Guy Higgins, 67, of Farmville is a retired Navy sailor who saw information about Ball’s meeting in The Daily Reflector and decided to explore his options.

“My wife told me I must be eligible for some benefits and ought to find out,” Higgins said. “You can’t get anything if you don’t ask. I think the folks who put on workshops like this deserve lots of credit. Life hasn’t been as good to some veterans as it has been to me.”

For information or consultation about veterans benefits, Pitt County residents can call Teresa Ball at the Pitt County Veterans Service Agency at 902-3092. More information about benefits and services also is available online at www.benefits.va.gov.

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