Season 3 Episode 127: Navigating Veteran Benefits with Dr. Paul Lawrence

Knowing how to effectively use your veteran benefits is a key part of post-military success. On this episode, we uncover how to navigate your benefits with help from Dr. Paul Lawrence. As a businessman, author and passionate veteran advocate, Dr. Lawrence served as the Under Secretary for Benefits at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. As Under Secretary, he was in charge of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and led a team of 25,000 people with an operating budget of $4 billion. Each year, he administered $120 billion in benefits to veterans. Dr. Lawrence wrote Veterans Benefits for You: Get What You Deserve, an easy-to-read, how-to guide, that was released on July 4, 2023. Paul served in the U.S. Army, having completed his ROTC requirement as an Airborne-qualified Captain.

Veterans and transitioning service members can learn about the different benefits to which they are entitled by visiting, attending the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), utilizing veteran service organizations or by reading Dr. Lawrence’s new book. The only way to initiate any veteran benefit is to apply for that benefit. While some applications are easy to navigate, others can be complicated. For example, the disability compensation benefit application process can be overwhelming without the no cost assistance from a Veteran Service Officer (VSO).

Dr. Lawrence advises veterans who think they don’t deserve additional benefits to understand that benefits are not an entitlement, they are earned through one’s service. For those seeking disability compensation, remember that as you age, conditions will get worse. It’s easier to start the disability compensation process earlier, rather than later, because you often don’t have the documentation you need, or the conditions can get more problematic. Even if a person applies for a benefit and is denied, there will still be a record on file. This is helpful when science advances and conditions can be attributed to exposure to certain chemicals for example. As a person ages, they can file a claim for increase. Dr. Paul encourages people to review their conditions every 3-5 years.

One of the most utilized benefits is the GI Bill, a benefit that is not just for college. It can also be used for technical training and certifications. In addition, it is a benefit that can be transferred, while on duty, to a dependent. Many states have additional education benefits for veterans and their dependents. The home loan guarantee is another popular benefit. Veterans can purchase a home with no money down.  

A benefit that is often underutilized is a safety net benefit called pension. If a veteran’s assets and income fall below a certain level, and the veteran served during periods of war, then that person may qualify for a small pension. The veteran does not need to have served 20 years. It’s not a lot of money, but it may be enough for someone on the cusp of homelessness. Another benefit that could be useful is life insurance. For those that are service disabled, it may be difficult to obtain life insurance for certain amounts. The VA has an insurance portfolio that should be considered.

If someone is having issues accessing their benefits, reach out to a VSO. Many organizations will help you find a VSO, including Wounded Warrior, DAV, VFW or American Legion. Each state also funds VSOs.

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