The hardest hit veterans of military service — the disabled — get a cost of living (COLA) increase each year if the Social Security Administration grants one to its recipients.
In 2013, the disability benefits will range from $129 monthly for a disabled Veteran rated at 10 percent to $2,816 monthly for a veteran at 100 percent, according to figures released this month by the Veterans Administration. Both rates are for a vet without dependents. The VA estimates all disability rates in 10 percent increments. More than 4 million vets and dependents receive disability payments.
The new rates reflect a COLA of 1.7 percent. The Department of Labor is responsible for setting the COLA. The estimate is based of the rise in the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers.
Veterans on disability are not unanimously happy with the COLA.
“COLA is like a slap in the disabled/combat vets face,” Robert Vann Wilson told the VA on its Web site, “While the politicians live like royalty.”
According to a VA press release, the largest number of disabled vets are in the 10 percent category — but more than 80 percent of disabled vets are rated higher. Musculoskeletal disabilities such as arthritis or knee impairment are the leading category of disability, accounting for about 40 percent of all disabilities.
Disabilities must be service-connected to qualify for VA benefits, and the VA can be tough to convince if the disabilities were not recognized before a military member left active duty.
The VA recommends that vets register for an eBenefits account to track disability and other veterans benefits.
To see what an eBenefits registration entailed, this reporter registered. To get basic registration, the VA site demanded a Social Security number (or similar ID), name, address, and then asked a bunch of log-in security questions (for example, “What was the name of your first pet?”). It also demanded that I choose a photo and “image phrase.”
Completing that got me basic registration; the site then asked if I wanted to go for “level 2” status, so I tried for that.
Level 2 was a slightly spooky experience, perhaps less so for me because my Army unit was aligned with the National Security Agency. The VA computer has access to public records databases and quickly used my Social Security number to ask me what state I had lived in with a woman I had divorced 20+ years ago (!); what year car I was driving, and a multiple choice question about the street I had lived on in California.
When I answered correctly, the VA computer approved me for level 2 access. When I tried to log in, however, my browser Google Chrome didn’t like the setup —but I ignored its warning and proceeded. Voila! I was on the VA Web site with access to managing my health care and other VA benefits. The entire eBenefits registration process hadn’t taken more than 10 minutes, if that.
However, when I went to the MyHealthVet site, I had to register all over again!
In future articles, I’ll update you on how useful eBenefits is. One thing for sure — it has to be the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to check your disability rate for 2013.