Informational

VA to start processing disability claims for certain conditions related to particulate matter

The Department of Veterans Affairs will begin processing disability claims Aug. 2 for asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis on a presumptive basis based on presumed particulate matter exposures during military service in Southwest Asia and certain other areas — if these conditions manifested within 10 years of a qualifying period of military service.

 

The process concluded that particulate matter pollution is associated with chronic asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis for Veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations beginning Aug. 2, 1990 to the present, or Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria or Djibouti beginning Sept. 19, 2001 to the present. VA’s review also concluded that there was sufficient evidence to presume that these Veterans have been exposed to particulate matter.

 

Additional info: Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Exposures – Public Health (va.gov)

Preparing for a Home Loan as a Veteran:

Essential Tips for Landing Your Dream Home

As a veteran who is accustomed to moving from place to place, you may be looking forward to putting down roots in a house you can finally call your own. Though exciting, the home-buying process can be difficult and overwhelming. The American Legion Department of Connecticut are a few ways you can simplify it and possibly make purchasing a home more affordable.

Start Saving Money

Regardless of a lender’s down payment requirements, you will need a good sum of money for things like closing costs, moving expenses, installation fees, etc. Closing costs are substantial, ranging anywhere from 3% to 6% of a home’s purchase price. For example, if you purchase a home for $200,000, you’re looking at paying between $6,000 and $12,000 in closing costs alone. At a minimum, you should have between $15,000 and $20,000 saved before beginning your search.

Boost Your Credit Score

Regardless of what type of loan you choose to go with, you will need a decent credit score to obtain approval. The most flexible lenders accept applicants with scores that are in the mid-500s, while conventional mortgage lenders require scores of at least 620. Most VA mortgage lenders require a 620 as well. If your score doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for the type of loan you want, you will need to improve it before applying. You may want to focus on bolstering your score regardless of what it is, as a better score can get you a lower interest rate.

Make Yourself More Attractive to Lenders

Though sizable savings and a good-to-excellent credit score can go a long way toward impressing lenders, you can do more to increase your borrowing power. Pay down your debts as much as you can without dipping into your closing savings, boost your income, find ways to save, and get preapproved.

Explore Your Lending Options

Eventually, you will need to apply for a home loan, but the question is, who should you go through? As a veteran, the VA is the most obvious option. Per the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VA home loans come with several benefits, including a zero down payment option, limited closing costs, loose credit requirements, and no PMI requirements. However, there may be instances when another type of loan is a better fit. Some additional lending options to consider are as follows:

 

  • FHA Loans: Though not as cost-effective as VA loans, FHA loans are great for first-time homebuyers who have less-than-stellar credit and can only afford a small down payment. You may consider an FHA over VA loan if your score is less than 600.
  • USDA Loans: USDA loans are those issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They require zero down and are to be used to secure mortgages for property in nonurban areas.
  • Conventional Loans: Conventional loans are the most issued mortgage loans in the U.S. They are not backed by the government and, as such, have stricter lending requirements. However, if you meet them, you may be able to secure great terms and rates.

Regardless of the type of loan you choose, make sure that you clearly understand the terms. Carefully consider the APR, interest rate, terms, and payments before agreeing to anything. If you’re looking for a VA loan, carefully explore your options and familiarize yourself with current VA fixed mortgage rates. Rates may fluctuate based on your current credit score, home location, and type of residence.

Plan for the Move

Even when you have yet to find the perfect home, it’s wise to prepare a moving plan beforehand. Doing so allows you to pad your budget accordingly, and it helps make for a more organized move. If you plan to hire movers, reach out to professional moving companies to get an idea of what a move would cost. Now is also a good time to start packing up some of your belongings, even if it’s just items you don’t use all the time. Lastly, prepare a checklist that you can refer to as you get close to a moving date. Items should include

  • Connect with utility and internet providers
  • Log your change of address with the USPS
  • Find a highly rated locksmith who can rekey your doors
  • Checking out local schools

Buying a home is the epitome of the American dream. By referring to these tips, you can remove some of the hassle from such a major purchase and life milestone. In doing so, you will be closing before you know it.

Running for Office With a Disability

This article is brought to you by The American Legion Department of Connecticut.

It can’t be denied that the world is on the cusp of monumental changes that can potentially improve the quality of life for the marginalized, minorities, those with disabilities, and the like. However, for change to come to fruition, representation is necessary. For this reason, it’s refreshing to see that more people with disabilities are seeking public office to push meaningful agendas in this day and age.

Of course, getting into politics can be quite challenging, in and of itself, and if you have special needs and physical and/or medical limitations, it can be downright grueling, even with the best intentions. That’s why it’s important to get to know what a bid for public office will entail and learn how to do it right with the least amount of hardship on your part.

Understand the challenges.

First thing’s first—know that there is definitely no law against a person with disabilities running for office; this is a political right. Despite this, you might find people around you, well-meaning or otherwise, opposed to such an undertaking, especially in consideration of the likely physical and mental toll of politics.

The fact is, many people with disabilities require empowerment to become leaders, which is where Time suggests the bulk of the challenges lie. Moreover, there’s also the fact of having to deal with stereotypes and stigma on the campaign trail. A prime example of this is how President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously hid his paralysis in his campaign and through most of his time in office.

Bring in the right people.

Unless you have a political pedigree, it goes without saying that breaking a trail in politics can be very challenging. Because of this, it’s smart to leverage all the help you can get. You might be surprised to find, however, NOS Magazine notes there are organizations that train disabled people to seek public positions, and these are unquestionably the folks you want in your camp.

At the most fundamental level, you’ll also need to understand the campaign process and, by extension, the campaign roles and responsibilities that will get the ball rolling for you. The fact is, a campaign is not a one-person show, and it’s truly in your best interest to populate a solid team.

Usually, campaign staff includes volunteers, but there’s really no rule against working with professionals like freelancers. Case in point, it’s more than wise to hire a social media marketing expert to help enhance your online presence as well as craft and regularly post on your social media sites. Thankfully, it’s simple enough to hire social media marketing services through online job boards, since you can check their experience and credentials easily.

Be inclusive.

Speaking of messages, it naturally follows that you’re running for office because you have an agenda close to your heart that you want to represent in the public arena. As a person with a disability, this will likely be more geared toward people with disabilities, which, again, is largely an under-represented sector.

While you can focus on your group’s issues and pain points, it’s also important to be more inclusive of society as a whole, as well—not only to get you the necessary votes, but to also be recognized as someone who is an ally to everyone. Be ready to explain why the community and society as a whole will benefit from your platform. People will be more inclined to rally at your side when they understand what’s in it for themselves.

It’s truly commendable that you’re considering taking on the challenges of public office, because the current political arena is in dire need of diversity. Surround yourself with the right people and keep your message clear. Ultimately, this is how societies are changed for the better, and with your political bid, you can help drive that change.

Laying the Foundation for Your Financial Future Post-Military

With every transition comes a new opportunity to set goals, develop plans, and assess where you are at. If you’ve recently been discharged from the military and are evaluating what comes next, it is a perfect time to look at your finances and plan for the future. A solid financial plan will set you up for years of success and prepare you and your loved ones for emergencies.

Building Savings

Whatever your income source, a good rule of thumb is to save 10 to 20 percent of each paycheck you receive. However, if that feels overwhelming or unattainable, then find a percentage that feels right and start consistently saving that amount. Regardless, it’s important to form the habit of saving money for a rainy day.

Building savings may mean you need to cut expenses, so take an aggressive look at where you are spending money by keeping a written record and receipts. To start planning for short-term and long-term emergencies — particularly interruptions in a steady income — you might have to cut back on food expenses, entertainment, monthly subscriptions, or vacations.

Obtaining Insurance Coverage

One certainty we have in life is that we never know what will happen next or when our time will come. So, to help save your loved ones the financial hardship that comes with a sudden loss, get the following two types of insurance:

  1. Life Insurance — With little to no planning, an unexpected death could leave those who are dependent on you in a tough spot. Term life insurance will save your family from worry by providing them with 10 or more years of your income in the event of your death.
  1. Burial Insurance — The average cost of a funeral is $9,000. If you die from an incident unrelated to the military, the VA will pay anywhere between $300 and $780 for funeral costs. To prevent your loved ones from having to worry during their time of mourning, plan ahead by making your wishes known and securing burial insurance to help cover the costs.

Finding a New Career

When it comes to being successful as an everyday citizen, a career that helps support your family is at the top of the list. Of course, it would also be nice to find something you enjoy. Based on your background and education, you may find a natural transition in the civilian world. Many veterans choose fields like engineering, healthcare, IT support, and law enforcement, for example.

Of course, some veterans would rather venture out on their own as entrepreneurs than work for someone else. If it’s maximum flexibility and limitless income potential you’re looking for, this may be the ideal career path. The good news is that there are lots of loans, grants, and funding options to help veteran-owned businesses succeed. Just make sure you follow all the formal steps to create your business, starting with setting up a Connecticut LLC that protects your assets, gives you flexible tax options, and remains flexible as you grow.

Investing in Your Future

We never know what the future may hold, but with longer life spans and more potential for a higher quality of life, you should plan to live your best and longest life. If you didn’t invest in a thrift savings plan while you were in active duty, you can start saving now. If your employer offers a 401k and matches, you should contribute up to the amount they will match. Otherwise, consider either a traditional IRA or Roth IRA to benefit from tax savings and save for retirement.

Schooling

Military personnel are some of the most highly trained and skilled employees in the world. If you find yourself in need of more education, whether for new employment or personal desires, there are many grants available to veterans that can help pay for schooling and subsidize living costs. Many also qualify for the GI Bill and other educational benefits to help cover tuition. 

Home Buying

Real estate is always a good investment. If you can buy a house with cash and no mortgage, then that is the way to go. However, if like most Americans you need a little help, then you should consider a VA home loan either directly through the VA or through a private lender, which will afford you better terms than the average private mortgage.

The sooner you can establish a financial plan for yourself, the better of you will be. Use tried and true methods like saving, obtaining life and burial insurance, and investing. Simultaneously, use veterans perks like the GI Bill and VA loans. Having plans in place for you and your family will afford you peace of mind and reassure you that you have a secure path to follow.

Remember, you don’t have to navigate your post-military life on your own. For assistance, contact The American Legion Department of Connecticut at 860.436.9986 or ctadj@ctlegion.org.