By Opelika Observer Staff
The Veterans Administration is a national organization that, through its state and local offices, offers many services and benefits to veterans and their dependents. Here is a brief summary of the programs and benefits available.
HOUSING AND HOME LOAN GUARANTEES FOR VETERANS
A VA loan (also known as a Veterans Administration (VA) home loan) is one of the most useful military benefits. If you qualify, you can buy or refinance a home mortgage with as little as $0 down, with great rates and financing up to $424,000.
VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION AND EMPLOYMENT (VR&E)
You may receive Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) services to help with job training, employment accommodations, resume development and job seeking skills coaching. Other services may be provided to assist veterans and service members in starting their own businesses or independent living services for those who are severely disabled and unable to work in traditional employment. To learn more about the VR&E program, review the VR&E Process page, and the tabs and links on this page. Click on the “How to Apply” tab to apply for VR&E services.
VA’s Education and Career Counseling program is a great opportunity for Veterans and Servicemembers to get personalized counseling and support to help guide their career paths, ensure the most effective use of their VA benefits, and achieve their goals.
EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM (LVER)
LVERs conduct active outreach programs with employers, community and veterans organizations, unions and local counseling and social services agencies to ensure that veterans know about and receive the services for which they are eligible. They work with veterans to place them in federally-funded employment and training programs. They also assist veterans in developing job interviewing and resume writing skills. They help veterans conduct a productive job search and access job listings through electronic data bases, including Americas Job Bank
VA MEDICAL CENTERS AND HOSPITALS
Montgomery, Tuskegee, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa offer the closest VA medical facilities for Lee County residents. Free or low-cost medical care and pharmaceutical care as provided by the VA Health Administration has its roots as far back as 1812, when the first naval home care service began in Philadelphia. President Hoover created the VA in 1930, and hospitals were built across the country in the 1940s dedicated solely to the care of veterans. In 1988, President Reagan elevated the VA to cabinet-level administration when he signed the Department of Veterans Affairs Act. Since that time, the VA has had its share of struggles within its own administration. However, local veterans are still being served every day. Here is a list of the services offered by the VA Health Administration in our area:
- Post Traumatic Stress
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Agent Orange Exposure
- Gulf War Syndrome and Related Illnesses
- Radiation Exposure
- HIV/AIDS Treatment
- Alcohol/Drug Dependency Treatment
- Blind Veterans Service
- Combat Veteran Healthcare Eligibility
- Online Health Services for Veterans
In addition to the federal VA programs, Alabama offers several additional services through its state funded veteran’s program.
THE ALABAMA G.I. DEPENDENTS SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
This nationally renowned program was created by Act 633 and approved in October 1947 by the Alabama Legislature. It is administered by the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA) and is governed by the Code of Alabama 1975, Section 31-6-1. The veteran must meet the qualifications listed below to establish eligibility of his/her dependents. A dependent is defined as a child, stepchild, spouse or the un-remarried widow (er) of the veteran.
Military Service: The veteran must have honorably served at least 90 days of continuous active federal military service or been honorably discharged by reason of service-connected disability after serving fewer than 90 days of continuous active federal military service.
Disability Requirements: Beginning July 31, 2017, veterans must be rated 40% or more because of service-connected disabilities or have held the qualifying rating at the time of death, be a former prisoner of war (POW), declared missing in action (MIA), died as the result of a service-connected disability rating or died while on active military service in the line of duty.
*Veterans with a disability rating of 20-30% may qualify if the effective date of their disability rating is on or before July 31, 2017. This provision will expire on July 31, 2023.
*Veterans whose disability rating is less than 20% prior to May 23, 2017, but who had a claim for compensation pending prior to that date, which resulted in a final award by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs of at least 20%, may be eligible if the dependent applies for benefits within six months of that final adjudication.
Veteran Residency Requirements: (Veterans must qualify under at least one of the following two requirements):
- Permanent civilian resident for at least one year immediately prior to initial entry into federal active military service or any subsequent entry into federal active military service where a 12-month break in service occurred.
AND one of the following:
Current resident for at least two years immediately prior to the date of the scholarship application or date of veteran’s death; or
Current resident who was discharged from active duty within 12 months prior to the date of the scholarship application; or
Filed a resident Alabama income tax return for the past 10 consecutive years immediately prior to the date of the scholarship application.
- Bona fide permanent resident for at least five years immediately prior to the date of this application or the date of the veteran’s death. Applies to 100% permanent and total ratings only .
STUDENT REQUIREMENTS: As of July 31, 2017, students applying for benefits for the first time must meet all of the following:
- Must be a current resident of the state of Alabama at the time of application; and
- Must complete a free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for each year that they are covered under the Alabama G.I. Dependent Scholarship Program; and
- Must comply with Standards of Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) as defined by their education institution; and
- Must complete a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) release form for each educational institution that they attend to authorize the release of personally identifiable information required to determine continued eligibility and as required for necessary reporting.
Student Entitlement: Children and stepchildren of qualified veterans may receive five standard academic years (10 semesters) at any Alabama State-supported institution of higher learning or a prescribed course of study at any state –supported technical college to be used for undergraduate courses of study at the in-state tuition rate. Student’s receive eight years from the date the application is received in the headquarters office to use their 10 semesters.
Spouses or un-remarried widow(er)s of a veteran rated as 100% permanently and totally disabled may also receive five standard academic years (10 semesters) at any Alabama State-supported institution of higher learning or a prescribed course of study at any state –supported technical college to be used for undergraduate courses of study at the in-state tuition rate. Student’s receive 8 years from the date the application is received in the headquarters office to use their 10 semesters.
Spouses or un-remarried widow (er)s of a veteran rated 20-90% disabled are entitled to three standard academic years (six semesters) at any Alabama State-supported institution of higher learning or a prescribed course of study at any state –supported technical college to be used for undergraduate courses of study at the in-state tuition rate. Student’s receive six years from the date the application is received in the headquarters office for processing to use their six semesters.
Beginning with applications received at the ADVA headquarters office with a postmark dated on or after July 31, 2017, tuition will be limited to the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance Cap (currently $250 per semester hour) and required textbooks and applicable fees will be limited to a combined $1,000 total per student for each semester. Schools may waive any overages of these charges at their discretion. All scholarships and grants must be applied to education expenses first (unless otherwise proscribed by state law) and the Alabama G.I. Dependent Scholarship Program will be applied for any applicable remaining charges pursuant to current state law.
Please note: Students who made application prior to fall 2009 received a lower amount of awarded semesters and students who made application prior to Fall 2014 were not required to utilize benefits for undergraduate courses of study.
Age Deadline: The child or stepchild must initiate training under our program prior to his/her 26th birthday. In certain situations, a child or stepchild may be eligible for our program up to the age of 30. If the applicant is a stepchild, the veteran and the stepchild’s parent must be legally married prior to the child’s 19th birthday.
Application Assistance: The ADVA maintains offices throughout the state which can furnish information and assist you in filing your application. To find your nearest veterans service office, visit the Veterans Service Office Locator Page for contact options.
THE ALABAMA STATE VETERANS HOME PROGRAM
This program offers an alternative to assisted living or nursing home care for veterans. The Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City is one such facility. Services include 24-hour nursing staff, physician on-call 24 hours a day, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and pharmacy services.
ALABAMA STATE VETERANS MEMORIAL CEMETERY
The Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Spanish Fort sits on over 120 acres of land in Baldwin County, Alabama. The cemetery was dedicated in December 2012 and began interments in April 2013. The initial phase of the cemetery is 22.8 acres and has 2,776 burial sites (2,392 in-ground). The lifespan of the entire cemetery is 100 years.
Pre-registration is available and allows a veteran and their spouse to establish, in advance, their eligibility for burial at the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Spanish Fort. There is no cost for pre-registration and it does not obligate the veteran to be interred at the cemetery. Pre-registration is intended to simplify and assist the veteran’s next-of-kin at the time of death. The key items needed for pre-registration are a copy of the veteran’s discharge certificate (DD Form 214) and, for married veterans, a copy of the marriage certificate.
Tony Ross, Cemetery Director
Joseph S. Buschell, Assistant Cemetery Director
Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Spanish Fort
34904 Alabama Highway 225
Spanish Fort, AL 36577
TUITION WAIVER FOR PURPLE HEART RECIPIENTS
Public institutions of higher learning in Alabama, including two and four-year technical colleges, community colleges and junior colleges, may waive tuition and fees for recipients of the Purple Heart medal for undergraduate studies.
VETERAN DRIVER LICENSE
Since May 1, 2013, Alabama veterans have had the option of displaying proof of military service on their driver licenses.
To establish proof of service, a veteran must visit one of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Driver License examining offices, a license commissioner’s office or probate office, and present a DD-214 form from the U.S. Department of Defense that shows an “honorable” or “general under honorable conditions” status.
There is no additional charge for the veteran designation for a first-time driver license applicant or for an individual seeking to renew his or her license. A veteran who chooses to add the designation before his or her renewal date, however, must pay the standard fee for a duplicate license.
DISABLED MILITARY VETERAN’S FRESHWATER FISHING LICENSE
Alabama law allows a discounted fishing license for an Alabama resident to fish the freshwaters of Alabama. The veteran must be certified by the USDVA to be 20% or more disabled. The discounted license can be issued at an Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries District Office, Probate Office or License Commissioner’s Office.
VETERANS SMALL AND DISADVANTAGED
The Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization helps small businesses obtain information on acquiring contracts with VA. Like other federal offices, VA is required to place a portion of its contracts and purchases with small and disadvantaged businesses. VA also promotes business with veterans by encouraging VA contracting offices to include veteran-owned contractors in mailings to solicit bids. These businesses are identified from the Procurement Automated Source System and Procurement Marketing and Access Network through the internet, which are maintained by the Small Business Administration.
Contact information for Chambers and Lee County residents:
Sean Gathers is the Veterans Service Officer for Lee County. Contact info: 334-737-3626.
The office is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and is located at 100 S. 6th St. in Opelika.
Robert W. “Bob” Higgins, District Manager
Debra Perry, Administrative Support Assistant Fax: 205-554-4633
3701 Loop Road East Box 37, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35404
Serving: Autauga, Bibb, Calhoun, Chambers, Chilton, Choctaw, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Dallas, Elmore, Greene, Hale, Jefferson, Lee, Marengo, Perry, Randolph, Shelby, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox counties.
For more assistance and information, visit va.state.al.us or military.com.