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Q: I am a friend of a veteran who has serious mental health issues. His limited insurance coverage for such issues is inadequate and he periodically ends up in the emergency room for threatening suicide. He was discharged from military duty with a general discharge under other than honorable conditions. I have known him since before he entered military service and I believe that a lot of his mental health issues are related to what he experienced in the service of his country. Does the VA offer any mental health assistance for this type of veteran?

A: Discharges that are other than honorable, including a “general” discharge, are known as “bad paper” and can prevent veterans from receiving federal benefits, such as health care, disability payments, education and housing assistance. In some cases, these veterans were unjustly discharged from the military because of mental health issues. An estimated 22,000 veterans with mental illnesses have received other-than-honorable discharges since 2009. VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin recently announced that the VA would begin offering VA mental health care services to veterans with less-than-honorable discharges who urgently need it. Such veterans should contact their closest VA clinic or medical center for more information on how to access the mental health emergency services. This change in mental health care is just one of the ways that the VA is responding to the suicide crisis in the military and among veterans.

Q: I am enrolled in VA Health Care and periodically see my VA doctor for a few health issues. I have a 40 percent service-connected disability rating. I currently have applied for a VA guaranteed loan. A part of the application process requires a copy of my most recent disability award letter. I receive an award letter each December from the VA with a statement as to what my monthly compensation will be for the next 12 months. The guarantee loan program is run by the VA; why do I have to get the darn award letter? If I have to get the letter, how do I get a copy?

A: The VA is broken down into many sub-agencies that administer the individual VA programs. For security purposes and to guarantee that the VA loan guarantee administrator is actually dealing with the veteran who is applying for the program, most VA agencies do not share information between agencies. You can call the VA at 800-827-1000 to request a copy of your most recent award letter. Alternatively, if you are enrolled in Myhealthevet, you can go to the myhealthevet.gov website and print a copy.

Did you know?

The state of Illinois provides benefits to veterans that are separate from federal VA benefits. They include tax exemption/reduction for disabled veterans, veterans' preference in hiring for state jobs reporting to the governor, the Illinois Veterans Grant for college tuition and fees waiver and admission to the Illinois VA veterans' homes in Manteno, Quincy, LaSalle and Anna.

Illinois also provides for the exemption of camping and admission fees for certain disabled persons and former prisoners of war who are Illinois residents and who wish to camp in parks under the control of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Documentation of disability status is required.

Illinois does not require fishing and/or hunting licenses for disabled veterans with disability ratings from the VA of 10 percent or greater. Contact your local Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) at the Armory on South Main Street in Bloomington to apply for the disabled veteran fishing and hunting licenses.

The Illinois State Fair offers free admission on “Veterans' Sunday” at the state fair to all honorably discharged veterans and their family.

Cartage fees: When the federal government has furnished a headstone or marker, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs shall pay up to the allowable reimbursement amount for the setting of such marker within Illinois. Currently, the maximum amount is $100 payable upon approval of the application.

Indigent veterans: Each county with a Veterans Assistance Commission (53 of Illinois’ 102 counties have VAC offices) shall provide burial for any honorably discharged indigent veteran, or their mothers, fathers, spouse or surviving spouse, or minor children, without sufficient means to defray the funeral expenses. The expense of such burial shall not exceed the sum of $900. Emergency food and transportation may also be provided in certain cases at the VAC offices. Contact your local commission for more information.

Veterans Corner publishes Monday. Content is provided by the McLean County Veterans Assistance Commission, 200 W. Front St., Bloomington, IL 61701; call 309-888-5140.

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