There are benefits out there Veterans!! With a little effort and a good Veteran Specialist they can be yours for the taking. Some of you will find that you are in a position to get a lowered floor wheelchair van without any money out of pocket. For others, you may have to pay for the vehicle and the Veteran Administration will pay for the adaptive equipment. This pamphlet provides information to see where your benefits currently lie as far as transportation goes. It will also give you assistance to help you know how to improve your benefits. Information is the key to a better pension and better accessibility.
Understanding your Benefits
Understanding your veteran benefit can be quite confusing. Here are some common questions I have received:
- What qualifies me to get a wheelchair van through the Veteran Administration?
- Can I get help with transportation if I am not 100% service connected?
- If I am 100% service connected, why does the prosthetics office say I am “non-service connected” when it comes to transportation
- Why is it that I can get such an expensive wheelchair but I can not get the grant for “APPLICATION FOR AUTOMOBILE OR OTHER CONVEYANCE AND ADAPTIVE EQUIPMENT”.
There are 2 categories each of you veterans will fit into: Service Connection and Non-Service Connection. Both Categories have different guidelines for providing transportation benefits.. The kicker is that when it comes to adaptive transportation , “Service Connection” and “Non-Service Connection” do not follow the rules that you are used to. You may think you are service connected and find yourself hitting a brick wall because you do not have the specific service connection needed to fit into that category. The nice thing is, both the Service Connected Veterans and the Non-Service Connected Veterans have transportation benefits. The purpose of this information packet is to help you navigate the right path.
Service Connected Benefits
If you are qualified, you can get a lowered floor wheelchair van with a ramp that has been converted for your specific mobility needs in a matter of 3 months or less. The Veteran Administration will pay for up to $25,603.02 on the Chassis (Dodge. Chrysler, Toyota…) and they will cover the full conversion/adaptive equipment installed. As for the service connection qualifications, the Veteran Administration is looking for Veterans that have served during wartime who have “loss of limb use” tied to their service connection. Fortunately, it is not difficult to find out if you fit in this category.
First, you can look at your “Entitlement Letter” or “Benefits Letter” that has your “Rating Decision” on it. If it mentions the words “adaptive equipment” anywhere in the body of that letter, you should be good to go. Call MITS of Virginia and we will begin the process by sending you a 21-4502 VA form to fill out, or you can just print it out from your computer. If for some reason you can not find your “Entitlement Letter”, call the Veteran Office at (800) 827-1000 and they should send you a replacement letter within a week.
Non Service Connected Benefits
Many Veterans have been told that in order to get benefits, the veteran must have “loss of limb use” as part of their connection.
This notion is wrong. A majority of veterans, even ones with as little as 20% service connection are eligible for mobility adaptations grants. Full size van lifts, scooter/wheelchair platform lifts and lowered floor wheelchair van conversions are purchased by veterans with VA assistance regardless of their service connection.
If you want to see where you stand with transportation assistance, go to your VA physician and request an “Ingress Egress Evaluation”; or you can go to your prosthetics office and speak to the person over “Non Service Connected Adaptive Equipment Benefits”. Explain to them your issues. The VA is obliged to provide the modifications needed on a vehicle to “allow Ingress and Egress from a Vehicle” - in other words, to make sure you can be transported to and from your respective destinations. If you have been given a wheelchair, make sure they know the wheelchair is of little use to you if you can not go anywhere in it.
I do need to be clear that with “non-service connected” Veterans, the VA covers only the adaptive equipment, not the vehicle itself. Fortunately, it is not necessary to buy new. A “newer” model can be adapted.
Making a Doctor from the VA Medical Center Your Primary Care Physician
One requirement from the Veteran Administration requisite to getting benefits is to have a Primary Care Physician within the VA System. If you are not service connected and not seeing a VA Doctor then you are cutting yourself short from available equipment and transportation benefits. Now is as good a time as any to get into the system. I encourage you to call the VA Medical Center closest to you and request enrollment through the Hospital’s Eligibility Department. If you qualify for enrollment, your chances are good that you will be able to get assistance with adaptive equipment or a vehicle conversion.
Making the Best of your Service Connection Rating
For smaller mobility adaptations the vehicle can be older. The VA and your Mobility Dealership Representative should be able to work with you to find a used vehicle within your budget. Frequently it is hard to finance a wheelchair van from your own bank or credit union. But if the VA pays for the equipment or conversion, you should be able to go to your financial institution and have the balance approved. For some of you; bad credit or lack of credit is an obstacle. If that is the case, don’t throw in the towel. At MITS of Virginia, we will follow any possible path to make it happen for Veterans.
Many of you Veterans have added disability pension coming and just don’t know access it. Those established as “Service Connected” usually know it is in your wisdom to be re-evaluated regularly to see if you qualify for added pension. However, “Non-Service Connected” Veterans are often unaware that you can be evaluated to begin receiving a disability pension, despite any prior evaluation. If you find that a mental or physical impairment has come to you over time, you should be re-evaluated to see what the VA can offer. Once you establish a disability pension, I would advise that you also file a retroactive claim. The retroactive payments could be just as substantial as your future added pension. As you are being re-evaluated, make sure you question the status of service connected disability for “Loss of Limb Use” since this will directly impact your transportation benefits.
For some, the hardest part of getting disability pension may be the initial call to the local veteran‘s advocate. Several people have asked me what they need to do to get their VA rating changed to receive added benefit. I like this question because veterans who stay on top of their rating decision get both added disability pension and added medical equipment/modifications.
To change your rating, you will make a statement on Form 21-4138 as to why your rating should be changed. This form can be downloaded online or you can request the form by calling 800-827-1000. The VA website says to send this form in to the regional office yourself. I recommend that you do not personally send this form in but that you have your VA Primary Care Physician send it along with his evaluation and the evaluations of any of your other doctors that can help. If you can, get your doctor to actually write up the 21-4138 form. If he wants you to do it, you will at least want to get advice on what should be written to get your desired result.
There is always the possibility your VA Primary Care Physician may not agree with changing your rating. In this case, there are some very effective groups both inside the VA System and Outside the VA System that help with improving and taking advantage of benefits not yet provided to you. Inside the VA System The Virginia Department of Veterans Services (VDVS) and the West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance (WV DVA) are independent state agencies that support veterans and their families. The WV DVA and VDVS do an excellent job providing information about Pension and Benefits . They advocate for you so that you can claim what is rightfully yours.
There are 23 VDVS Offices and 16 WV DVA Offices. To find the one closest to you, just go to their websites, http://www.dvs.virginia.gov and http://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-state-benefits/west-virginia-state-veterans-benefits.html.
Help from Veteran Advocate Groups Outside the System
Many individuals have found their greatest assistance outside the VA system. Below are a few groups you can go to. You will be assigned a case worker that will answer your questions about available benefits and do your bidding.
The American Legion The American Legion is an organization for active military and those who have served during wartime. It is an effective group to assist you in the process of maximizing your benefits. You can become a member of the American Legion by going to www.legion.org. If you are not an internet person, you can reach the American Legion at (800) 433-3318. They will assign you an advocate.
Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) PVA is an excellent group to take you through the process. When PVA is overly busy, you will find they only take those with spinal chord injuries. PVA represents both service connected and non-service connected veterans. Below is a phone number list for advocates in different areas.
- Hampton Region PVA 800-795-1350
- Richmond Region PVA 800-795-3574
- Roanoke Region PVA 800-795-3575
In WASHINGTON DC
- 202- 416-7728
In WEST VIRGINIA
In NORTH CAROLINA
Even if your Doctor gives you a prescription and represents your transportation needs well. I would have him/her do everything in their power to prescribe or recommend adaptive equipment and then I would still go to the advocate groups for help. If you want to make even surer that you get your proper benefits, a lawyer is very effective. If you are considering getting a lawyer, you will find it cost effective to start with the advocate groups and see where that takes you before you detain a lawyer.
Finding the Right Van and Being Treated Fairly
For Veterans with adaptive benefits, it is not very easy to judge whether or not you are being treated right as you get a conversion van through the VA. Lets say you go into a mobility dealership with your 10-4502 form in hand and you are ready to pick out your van. You end up spending $8,000 out of pocket but feel good because it was a $50,000 van. Did you really do well? In reality it is hard to tell if it was a good deal because you have no reference point. Perhaps you just had a salesman that could put a good spin on things. For this reason, I would like to express some reasonable expectations for you veterans who are getting a van through the VA.
- The Mobility Salesperson, should be able to bring a van to you, both when you are first learning about the vans and when you are finalizing a sale.
- You should be able to get a loaner vehicle when your vehicle needs work at no extra charge for the first few years.
- For first time buyers with the Auto Grant (10-4502 Form), the mobility dealer should offer a way to get a preowned van with a new lowered floor conversion at no cost. The mobility salesman may even know how to make it so you don’t have to pay the Title, Tax and License.
- The mobility salesmen should charge only Dealership cost for the chassis.
If your mobility dealer meets this check list then you know you are being treated well.
As you go through this process, please know that you can call MITS of VA at any point in the process. You will want to ask for Steve Chandler, “The VA Guy” . Vehicle and Conversion Options, Financing Options or knowing what to do next with the Veteran Administration – These are all areas that he will help with.