The Department of Veterans Affairs was established on March 15, 1989, succeeding the Veterans Administration. It is responsible for providing federal benefits to veterans and their families. Headed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, VA is the second-largest of the 15 Cabinet departments and operates nationwide programs for health care, financial assistance and burial benefits.
Of the 23 million veterans currently living, nearly three-quarters served during a war or an official period of conflict. About a quarter of the nation’s population is potentially eligible for VA benefits and services because they are veterans, family members or survivors of veterans.
The responsibility to care for veterans, spouses, survivors and dependents can last a long time. Two children of Civil War Veterans still draw VA benefits. There are 209 children and widows of Spanish-American War and Mexican Border Era veterans who still receive VA compensation or pensions.
VA’s fiscal year 2010 spending is projected to be approximately $114 billion, including $44.5 billion for health care, $57 billion for benefits and $250 million for the national cemetery system. This is more than a 16 percent increase from the department’s $97.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2009.
Compensation and pension
Disability compensation is paid to veterans who are disabled by injury or disease incurred or aggravated during active military service. Wartime veterans with low incomes who are permanently and totally disabled may be eligible for financial support through VA’s pension program.
In fiscal year 2009, the last year for which there is data, VA provided $44.6 billion in disability compensation, death compensation and pensions to 3.9 million people, including $465 million in economic stimulus payments under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. About 3.4 million veterans received disability compensation or pensions from VA. In addition, about 535,000 spouses, children and parents of deceased veterans received VA benefits. Among them are 179,000 survivors of Vietnam-era veterans and 230,000 survivors of World War II veterans.
Education and training
Since 1944, when the first GI Bill began, more than 21.9 million veterans, service members and family members have received $87.1 billion in GI Bill benefits for education and training. The recipients include 7.8 million veterans of World War II, 2.4 million from the Korean War and 8.2 million post-Korean and Vietnam-era veterans, plus active duty personnel. Since the dependents program was enacted in 1956, VA also has assisted in the education of more than 802,000 dependents of veterans whose deaths or disabilities were service-connected.
Since the Vietnam-era, approximately 2.7 million veterans, service members, reservists and National Guardsmen have participated in the Montgomery GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill for the Selected Reserve, Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) and Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP). VEAP was established in 1977 and the Montgomery GI Bill was established in 1985. REAP, enacted in 2004, provides benefits for certain National Guard and reserve members who are called to active service in response to a war or national emergency declared by the President or the Congress.
On Aug. 1, 2009, VA implemented the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which provides new education benefits for veterans and dependents. These include payment of tuition and fees (up to the maximum in-state pubic tuition), a monthly living allowance (equal to the Department of Defense Basic Allowance for Housing rate for an E-5 with dependents), and a books and supplies stipend (up to $1,000 annually). These new benefits and payment structure are a significant departure from the current single monthly payments that have been made under VA’s existing education programs since the 1950s. VA has issued nearly $1.7 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit payments to 189,597 individuals and their educational institutions.
In 2009, VA helped pay for the education or training of 376,811 veterans and active-duty personnel, 106,350 reservists and National Guardsmen and 81,327 survivors.
The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization is running a VAHC van from Durango on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call Mike Dunaway, 247-2198, and from the Farmington area on Mondays and Wednesdays, call Harriet Mulnix, (505) 793-1782.
Durango VA Clinic
The Durango VA Outpatient Clinic is located at 1970 E. 3rd Ave. Durango, CO 81301 (the old Mercy Medical Center). Phone number is 247-2214.
For information on these and other veterans’ benefits, please call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office located at the Senior Center in the Pagosa Springs Community Center on Hot Springs Blvd. The office number is 264-4013, the fax number is 264-4014, and cell number is 946-6648.