Millions of veterans lose out on billions in benefits because the VA doesn’t tell them they qualify. Why? – Money! – And, because the VA is not required to tell anyone about any benefits. Now, we go back to the first headline. Why are there millions of veterans and widows nationwide who are not getting VA benefits? The simple answer is because they don’t know they are qualified. The real answer is much more complex. The VA is NOT required to tell veterans, dependents or widows that they qualify for benefits. As strange as this may seem, the VA is under no obligation to inform anyone of any benefits. This is also true for veterans who are already enrolled in the VA system. Millions of veterans in the VA system are only receiving some of their benefits.

Most veterans do not know that if they have at least a 10 per cent service-connected disability they can get free eyeglasses, hearing aids and mobility devices such as canes and walkers. Other little-known benefits go begging as well. Very few veterans know that they can get a clothing allowance (now over $600 a year) if they wear a prosthetic device that damages clothing or use topical medications for skin ailments. I found myself in this situation a few years ago. After almost 20 years in the VA system I discovered that they would pay for my eyeglasses. No one had told me this. I discovered it by reading endless pages of veterans’ benefits information on line. I estimate I spent over $5,000 for eyeglasses that could have been provided by the VA. Why doesn’t the VA inform veterans of their benefits? The VA’s answer is simply because it is not a requirement. Veterans’ groups are more critical and claim it’s all about money. And, there is evidence to support this view. Up until about three years ago the VA had outreach programs designed to find and inform veterans of their benefits. These programs were cancelled by former VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi, a Republican political appointee. The reason? The programs were “too successful” and it was felt the VA budget couldn’t handle any more veterans in the system. Many veterans’ organizations used to hold “veterans’ benefits fairs” at VA facilities. The VA no longer allows these events (Principi, again) and the organizations had to move them to private property where the likelihood of meeting veterans was much lower.

Another valid criticism of the VA’s “non-information” policy is that poor veterans suffer the most. These veterans are least likely to have contacts in the veterans’ community to help them. And, they are not likely to have the resources, such as Internet access, to dig out the information on their own. There has been legislation floating around Congress for years that would require to VA to inform all veterans of all available benefits. That legislation gets bounced from committee to subcommittee to hearings with no real action. Republican legislators have fought it at every turn. So we find ourselves in the unique situation of having the state informing veterans of federal benefits. Look for these programs to grow, not only in Washington, but in other states as well. The irony here is that as states look to save money, veterans will be the winners.

The real answer to the problem lies in the legislation to require the VA to inform all veterans of all their benefits.