It's official; DD-214s are NOW Online. Please pass on to other vets. The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) has provided the following website for veterans to gain access to their DD-214s online:
http://vetrecs.archives.gov/ or try
Thinking of filing another VA disability compensation claim? Make sure you file it through the new Decision Ready Claim (DRC) Program. With DRC, you can get a decision on your claim in 30 days or less.
Work with an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO) to determine if the DRC Program is right for you and your claim. Your VSO can then help you gather and submit all relevant and required evidence so your claim is ready for VA to make a decision when you submit it.
If you plan to file any of the following types of claims, work with your VSO to file them as a DRC:
- Direct Service Connection Claims: Claims for a disability that was caused by or during your service.
- Presumptive Service Connection Claims: Claims for a disability that VA automatically presumes to be service-connected based on unique conditions or situations you experienced during your service.
- Secondary Service Connection Claims: Claims for a disability that you have as a result of another service-connected disability.
- Increased Disability Claims: Claims for a disability you have a VA rating for that has gotten worse.
Not planning to file a claim soon? Spread the word to your fellow Veterans, Service members and their families about the DRC Program to help them get faster decisions on their claims too. The DRC Program also now accepts Pre-Discharge claims for Service members about to transition to civilian life, and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) claims for surviving spouses.
Learn more about the DRC Program, including eligibility requirements, what medical evidence you need to submit, and how to find an accredited VSO at https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/drc.asp.
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Action Alert: Improve, Don't Dismantle the VA Health Care System
Background: Politicians, pundits and politically-motivated organizations are using the national crisis in access to care at the Department of Veterans Affairs as justification to dismantle and privatize the VA health care system, with some even proposing that veterans be charged for their service-connected care. The VFW says no!
Veterans must not stand idle as politicians who never served or use the VA health care system dictate when and where veterans can receive care.
For almost 117 years, the VFW has worked tirelessly to identify issues veterans face when accessing their earned benefits, and has worked with Congress to ensure a grateful nation fulfills her obligation to those who sacrificed to defend her. In the past two years alone, the VFW has collected direct feedback from more than 20,000 veterans regarding their experiences receiving VA and private sector health care. Their message is clear: “Improve, don’t dismantle the VA health care system.”
The Internal Revenue Service has announced that the nation’s 2016 individual income tax filing season opens Jan. 19, 2016, with more than 150 million tax returns expected to be filed this year.
People will have several extra days to file their tax returns this year. Taxpayers have until Monday, Apr. 18 to file their 2015 tax returns and pay any tax due because of the Emancipation Day holiday in Washington, D.C., falling on Friday, April 15. The IRS expects more than 70 percent of taxpayers to again receive tax refunds this year. Last year, the IRS issued 109 million refunds, with an average refund of $2,797.
Shown below are several ways Veterans and their families have access to free tax preparation and electronic filing services to keep more of their hard earned money.
- IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs are available to taxpayers that earned less than $54,000 in 2015. More than 3.7 million tax returns were prepared using these services in 2014. All tax returns completed through VITA are prepared by IRS certified volunteers, so you can feel confident your tax return is accurate. Even better, there are over 12,000 convenient locations across the country. To find the VITA location nearest you, enter your zip code into the easy-to-use VITA/TCE Locater.
- MyFreeTaxes, operating the only free online tax preparation and filing assistance platform available in all 50 states and Washington D.C., who earned $62,000 or less in 2015, allows qualified Veterans, active-duty military, their families and all other qualifying taxpayers to file both a federal and state tax return absolutely free. In addition to e-filing, MyFreeTaxes also provides in-person help to individuals and families earning $20,000 or less in 2015. For more information, please visit: www.myfreetaxes.com. The MyFreeTaxes initiative is managed by United Way, with the assistance from legacy partners, National Disability Institute and Goodwill Industries International, and is sponsored by the Wal-Mart Foundation.
In addition to free tax preparation and assistance services like VITA, TCE and MyFreeTaxes, there are several other free options qualifying Veterans and military families can use. However, please make note of additional eligibility requirements, and be advised not all are available in your particular location. Read more about each for information on eligibility and availability of services.
- IRS.gov/FreeFile serves as a central hub where taxpayers can choose from a variety of industry-leading tax software options in order to prepare and e-file their federal tax returns at no cost. If you earned $62,000 or less last year, you are eligible to choose from among 13 software products. If you earned more, you are still eligible for Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms. In fact, more than 70 percent of all taxpayers – 100 million people – are eligible for the software products. Each of the 13 providers has its own special offers, generally based on age, income or state residency. Taxpayers can review each offer or can use the “Help Me” tool to find the tax-filing software they are eligible to use. Free File offers easy-to-use products that ask questions and you supply the answers. The software will find the right forms, tax credits and deductions, and even do the math for you!
- TurboTax Freedom Edition – is available to taxpayers with an income of $31,000 or less, or those eligible to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- Second Story TaxAct – to qualify for free tax preparation, a taxpayer’s income must be $50,000 or less, and the filer must be 58 years old or younger.
- H&R Block’s Free File – offers free online assistance for taxpayers who earned $62,000 or less, between 18 and 50 years old as of December 31, 2015.
- Online Taxes (OLT) – offers free tax preparation services to taxpayers with an income between $13,000 and $62,000 in 2015.
Now, if you have already filed your taxes and want to know when you will receive your refund, be sure to download the IRS app, IRS2Go! This app is available in both English and Spanish and gives taxpayers the ability to check on the status of their tax refund, obtain tax records, find free tax preparation providers, and stay connected with the IRS through social media channels such as YouTube and Twitter.
Please note that VA does not endorse any of these sites, but brings your attention to them as they have free tax services available specifically for Veterans and their families.
About the author: Richard Keeling is a senior tax analyst at the Internal Revenue Service.
November 25, 2015
VA Updates Agent Orange Ship List: This week, VA added six new ships and expanded the dates for some already on the list of ships that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam. Veterans whose military records confirm they were aboard these ships qualify for presumption of herbicide exposure. To check if your ship or boat has been added to the list, visit: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/list.asp
From 1962 to 1975, US military sprayed herbicides over Vietnam to strip the thick jungle canopy that could conceal opposition forces, to destroy crops that those forces might depend on, and to clear tall grasses and bushes from the perimeters of US base camps and outlying fire-support bases. Because of continuing uncertainty about the long-term health effects of the sprayed herbicides on Vietnam veterans, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991. The legislation directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to contract an independent organization, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies, to perform a comprehensive evaluation of scientific and medical information regarding the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam.
As a result of the 1991 Act, all veterans who served in Vietnam that had boots on the ground, as well as those who served on ships in the inland waterways and at sea (offshore) were eligible for the presumption of benefits. At that time, the VA identified a list of diseases which accepted as having been caused by Agent Orange. If a veteran who had been exposed was affected by one of these diseases, it is presumed to have been caused by their exposure to Agent Orange and would, then, be considered service connected.
However, in 2002, the VA re-wrote its policy and excluded Blue Water veterans that served offshore from Agent Orange compensation unless they proved they set foot in Vietnam. Most offshore Navy veterans receiving benefits at that time were grandfathered into the new regulation and kept their benefits. From 2002 forward, Vietnam service requirement was met only if the veteran could prove they set foot on land in Vietnam or were on a ship that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam, operated in Vietnam’s close coastal waters, and had crew members who went ashore, or docked in Vietnam, regardless of the time spent there. This requirement excluded Navy veterans on ships offshore Vietnam.
The issue was revisited in 2008 when a federal appeals court upheld the VA’s 2002 policy and continued to exclude Blue Water veterans. The 2008 review was beneficial to veterans that served boots on the ground and in the rivers of Vietnam, in that a new IOM report concluded that there is “suggestive but limited evidence that exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the Vietnam War is associated with an increased chance of developing” a multitude of diseases such as diabetes mellitus, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, hairy cell leukemia, and all other chronic B-cell leukemias. VA’s final regulation recognizing this association took effect on October 30, 2010. Once again, some 90,000 Blue Water veterans were disadvantaged.
Despite the fact that hundreds of veterans that served in Navy ships offshore have been diagnosed with cancers and other diseases that are currently presumed to have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange, the VA continues to deny presumptive benefits. But we are confident, that is about to change.
In 2011, 20 years after the original legislature took effect, the IOM committee identified likely routes that Agent Orange could have diffused out to sea and used in the Navy’s distillation system. In the 1960’s, the Navy used a distillation process whereby sea water was evaporated and distilled to be used by veterans in the ships. Desalted water was used to cook food, wash laundry, shower, and drink. The study revealed that this process did not remove dioxin, the toxin used in Agent Orange from the water instead it would have enhanced it by a factor of 10.
In April of 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims determined that the VA’s interpretation of the regulation denying presumptive Agent Orange compensation for offshore Navy veterans was “irrational and inconsistent” and remanded the case for interpretation. The VA is now required to review, once again, where the VA may draw a line between inland waterways and offshore waters.
90,000 Navy veterans may soon be entitled to presumptive benefits based on Agent Orange exposure. Depending on the final interpretation, so long as the veteran was exposed to Agent Orange (either directly or presumptively), he need not have been diagnosed with a presumptive disease within any certain time frame. In other words, if a veteran served in Vietnam in 1969 and develops a presumptive condition forty years later in 2009, he is still entitled to service connection for his disease.
It is now imperative for all Navy veterans that served in ships offshore Vietnam to file a claim to protect their date of entitlement if they have been diagnosed with a disease that is presumptively caused by Agent Orange.