Veterans Benefits

The following information was discussed by Attorney Whitney Hughes on the November 11, 2008 edition of Legal Briefs on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live Show.

Veterans Day prompts many questions about the benefits available to veterans and their families.

Below are some common questions and helpful tips:

Who is eligible for Veterans Administration benefits?

You may be eligible for VA benefits if you are:

  • a veteran
  • a veteran’s dependent
  • a surviving spouse, child or parent of a deceased veteran
  • an active duty military service member
  • a member of the Reserve or National Guard

What types of benefits are available?

  • Compensation
  • Pension
  • Health care
  • Vocational rehabilitation and employment
  • Education and training
  • Home loans
  • Life insurance
  • Dependents and survivors benefits

I’m a new veteran. What are the first steps I should take?

Most veterans, including National Guard and Reservists, who served in a combat theater after Nov. 11, 1998 are eligible for free VA health care for combat-related conditions and enhanced enrollment priority for 5 years after separation from active duty. Prior to separation from your branch of service, make sure to have copies of all medical records and copies of service records.

Is there any difference in the steps I should take since I was stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Gulf War veterans have unique requirements because this group of veterans is eligible for compensation not only for disability due to diagnosed illnesses, but also for disability due to undiagnosed illnesses. An undiagnosed illness is established when findings are present that cannot be attributed to a known, clearly defined diagnosis, after all likely diagnostic possibilities for such abnormalities have been ruled out. Examiners should follow the guidelines in the "Handout of Instructions for Compensation and Pension Examinations" but will also need to request more laboratory tests and specialists’ examinations than average in these cases.

Like so many others I’m having trouble making my mortgage payments. Is there any help available specifically for veterans?

The Veterans Benefits Improvement Act which was just signed into law Oct. 10, 2008 allows veterans who wish to refinance their sub-prime or conventional mortgage to do so for up to 100 percent of the value of their property where they had previously been limited to 90 percent. In addition, the changes also raise the maximum loan amount from $144,000 to $729,750 depending on the area in which the property is located. This allows many more veterans to qualify for a refinance where they previously had not been able to.

For more information, or to obtain help from a VA Loan Specialist, veterans may call VA at 1-877-827-3702 or visit

What’s the most important thing I need to know about applying for benefits?


Many of the benefits you will be applying for, whether it is for yourself or your family, have strict deadlines for filing the benefits claim.

For example:

While there is no time limit for applying for compensation (must be at least 10 percent disabled as a result of your military service) or for a pension (must be a wartime veteran with limited income and permanently and totally disabled or at least 65 years old), there ARE deadlines for:

Health care benefits – must apply with 5 years from the date of discharge from active duty on or after Jan. 28, 2003. If discharged before Jan. 28, 2003 and had not enrolled as of Jan. 28, 2008 you must apply by Jan. 27, 2011.

Vocational rehabilitation and employment – must apply within 12 years from the date the VA informs them of a 10 percent disability rating for a service connected disability.

Education and training (GI Bill) – veterans have 10 years from the date of discharge from active duty; Reserve and National Guard members have 14 years from the date they become eligible for the program.

Family and spouse benefits for education and training – must apply within 10 years from the date they are deemed eligible, for surviving spouses of service members who died while on active duty, the deadline is 10 years. Children are usually eligible from ages 18 to 26, but there can be exceptions.

As always, if you have any questions or need to speak with an attorney who specializes in Veterans Benefits, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555.