California is currently home to 1.9 million veterans. Sixty-three percent of those veterans are 55 years old and older. With Americans now living longer, there has been a dramatic rise in the demand for elder health care and other services. Veterans’ benefits available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) and the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) can help veterans of any age but may be especially important to those nearing or in retirement.
For older individuals, veterans’ benefits could mean the difference between a secure retirement or living in poverty. Benefits could also mean the difference between quality health care, including free eye glasses and hearing aids, and undiagnosed and untreated health problems,. Unfortunately, less than 15% of California veterans are taking advantage of their USDVA compensation and pension benefits and less than 40% are using their health care benefits.
Many older veterans are beginning to feel the effects of injuries sustained during military service decades ago or are finding their symptoms have gotten worse with age. Vietnam veterans, whose average age is now between 60 and 65, are being diagnosed with ailments associated with their exposure to Agent Orange—the toxic herbicide used to defoliate the jungle between 1962 and 1971. The USDVA now presumes that 14 diseases and disorders found in “boots-on-the-ground” and certain other Vietnam veteran groups are the result of Agent Orange exposure.
“It would be easy for a doctor to overlook Agent Orange exposure as the cause of a patient’s Type 2 diabetes when genetic and lifestyle risk factors are present. The post traumatic stress disorder at the root of a veteran’s chronic depression could also be missed,” said CalVet Secretary Peter Gravett. “That’s why it’s so important for veterans of every era to make doctors aware of their military history when being evaluated, diagnosed, and treated,” he said.
Confusion is one of the reasons veterans don’t file for their benefits. What benefits are available? Is there an application time limit? Does a disability have to be combat-related to quality for benefits? Can a disability rating be upgraded or a disability rating denial be appealed? What benefits are available to veteran family members?
For answers to benefits or other veteran-related questions, visit the CalVet web site at www.calvet.ca.gov or call 877-741-8532. For the location of the nearest CVSO, visit www.cacvso.org click on “Contact Us,” and then click on the veteran’s county of residence.