En español | The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package will assist hundreds of thousands of veterans across the country who lost their jobs during the pandemic. It includes $17 billion in health care, retraining and other assistance programs offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
"Like any other segment of the population, the pandemic has had a significant financial distress for our veterans community,” said Ralph Bozella, chairman of the Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission at the American Legion, an organization of about 1.8 million wartime veterans, most of them older adults.
At the peak of the pandemic, there were roughly 700,000 veterans across the country who had lost their jobs, Bozella says. About 50 percent of those worked in the service industry, one of the hardest hit by COVID-19.
During the pandemic, VA health care facilities treated over 230,000 infected veterans. More than 10,000 died from the virus.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough says the department's biggest challenge in vaccinating veterans has been the limited supply of vaccine doses. “What I hear from our docs is, ‘From the moment we get it, our allotments are in arms within two to three days.'"
Stimulus checks. Individual veterans who receive VA benefits and did not file a 2018 or 2019 tax return should not have to take additional steps to receive the latest payment. This round of checks will be up to $1,400 for eligible individuals who reported $75,000 or less in adjusted gross income.
Expands health care. The largest allocation of money for VA programs, $14.5 billion, will be used to support COVID-19 vaccine distribution, mental health care services, telehealth options, suicide prevention, women's health, and homeless veterans or those in danger of becoming homeless.
Waives and reimburses VA copays during the pandemic. The VA received $1 billion to waive copays charged for VA health care and prescriptions during the pandemic. The agency can also reimburse for payments submitted starting April 6, 2020, and running through Sept. 30, 2021.
Rapid job retraining for vets affected by the pandemic. Veterans who are unemployed as a result of the pandemic and do not have other veteran education benefits may be eligible for up to 12 months of rapid retraining assistance and a housing allowance.
Improvements to state veteran homes. Construction grants and payments will be distributed to state veterans homes to improve living conditions for the nation's most vulnerable veterans.
Accelerates processing of compensation and pension claims. Since the pandemic began, the number of backlogged claims has piled up from 76,000 to 212,000, slowing the delivery of benefits to disabled veterans. The VA now estimates that it will process 112,000 claims by September 2022. It will also reduce pending benefits hearings and intake requests for the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency's Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.