Missouri makes helping veterans a priority

Whether it is a program to encourage businesses to hire veterans or making sure those who have served have access to all the benefits available to them, Missouri has made serving those who have provided military service a priority. According to Larry Kay, executive director of the Missouri Veterans Commission, it is the least the state can do.

“We want to treat those who have given their all the very best care we can — we owe that to them,” said Kay, himself a 31-year military veteran who retired from the Missouri National Guard in 2010 at the rank of Brigadier General.

With all the services provided by the state and federal governments as well as other resources, navigating all that help can be a confusing process. We asked Douglas Meyer, director of the commission’s Veterans Service Program and a retired Navy Yeoman Chief Petty Officer, to help answer some common questions:

What are some of the most important services your office provides for veterans?

Veterans Homes Program:

Our seven Missouri Veterans Homes operate 1,350 long-term skilled nursing care beds in compliance with the Department of Veterans Affairs regulations. Each Missouri Veterans Home employs a licensed nursing home administrator, has registered nurses on duty 24 hours per day and provides physician care and many other specialized care services. The seven homes are located in Cameron, Cape Girardeau, Mexico, Mt. Vernon, St. James, St. Louis and Warrensburg.

Veterans Cemeteries Program:

We provide a final resting place with honor to our veterans in perpetuity for their service and sacrifice. We have a cemetery network so that every Missouri veteran and eligible dependents will have access to a veterans cemetery. The five cemeteries are located in or near the cities of Bloomfield, Higginsville, Fort Leonard Wood, Jacksonville and Springfield. A sixth cemetery located in St. James is closed to interment.

Veterans Service Program:

Our 44 Veterans Services Officers assist veterans and their families throughout the state with benefit information and claims assistance. The VSOs assist in preparing forms, submitting applications, answering VA letters and providing follow-up on claims for VA benefits. The commission also has four specialized outreach initiatives focusing on the unique needs of certain veterans:  Women veterans, minority veterans, incarcerated veterans and returning and current active service members. We also employ a Veterans Ombudsman who works with extraordinary issues faced by veterans, service members, and their families.

What are some of the most common questions your office receives from veterans?

How long will it take to receive a decision on my Service connected compensation or non-service connected pension claim?

The length of time it takes to receive a decision depends on several factors, such as the complexity of the claim, the number of disabilities claimed and the availability of evidence needed to decide the claim. Currently most claims are being processed within three to six months, but can take longer in complex claims. A Fully Developed Claim (FDC) can be completed faster if the veteran can provide all necessary evidence to decide the claim.

Can my elderly father who is a veteran receive aid and attendance to help with the cost of medical care?

Veterans or surviving spouses who are eligible for non-service pension and are in need of the aid and attendance of another person may be eligible for this benefit. To qualify for a non-service connected pension, a Veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty with at least one day during a wartime period. If the Veteran entered active duty after Sept. 7, 1980, then you must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which you were called or ordered to active duty (with some exceptions), with at least one day during a wartime period. In addition to meeting minimum service requirements, the veteran must be:

•           Age 65 or older, OR

•           Totally and permanently disabled, OR

•           A patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR

•           Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, OR

•           Receiving Supplemental Security Income

•           Yearly family income must be less than the amount set by Congress to qualify for the Veterans Pension benefit.

Am I eligible for VA healthcare benefits?

If you served in the active military service and were separated under any condition other than dishonorable, you may qualify for VA health care benefits. Current and former members of the Reserves or National Guard who were called to active duty by a federal order and completed the full period for which they were called or ordered to active duty may be eligible for VA health benefits as well.