Mark Schneck wants area residents to check into their Veterans Administration benefits.

Why?

Because he’s seen how veterans and their families can be helped.

Schneck is the veterans’ service officer for Dodge County. His office is on the second floor of the Dodge County Courthouse in Fremont.

Dodge County has an estimated 5,000 veterans, but only about half that number have come into Schneck’s office to ask about benefits.

Reasons vary.

Schneck said some older veterans, like those who served in World War II, may feel like they don’t deserve the benefits or are unaware of them.

Some veterans are intimidated by the formidable VA process.

“They think they have to go to Omaha or Kansas City and deal with the federal VA employee, but I’m a fellow veteran who’s able to explain things from a layman’s perspective,” Schneck said.

He’s also able to help veterans and their families in many ways.

Schneck cites the case of a Vietnam veteran, who recently died of a service-connected illness. Schneck was able to get dependency and indemnity compensation of about $1,300 per month and free health care for the man’s widow for the rest of her life. A child still living at home also can receive free health care until graduating from college.

The widow will be able to remarry at a certain point and still retain her benefits.

Veterans and their families can benefit from several programs, including:

Veterans’ compensation. The most common type is for hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

“Many veterans don’t realize that the ringing or buzzing they hear in a quiet room is a result of noise trauma that may have occurred while in the military,” Schneck said.

The hearing loss or tinnitus can occur not only from gunfire exposure, but from repairing engines, working aboard a ship or on a flight line or while operating heavy equipment.

“If the VA agrees your job required working in a loud environment, that veteran may be eligible for a 10 percent disability — that’s the minimum threshold, which would allow the vet to collect $133 a month, tax-free,” Schneck said.

A 10 percent disability likely would allow the veteran to receive free, state-of-the-art hearing aids and eye glasses.

“The wife can be given a microphone to wear on her lapel that allows her to talk to her husband through his hearing aids,” Schneck said.

Some also will allow the veteran to hear a Smart TV through his hearing aids.

Schneck added that some veterans could rate at 40, 50 or even 100 percent disability. Veterans need to have a chronic condition initially treated while in the service.

Veterans suffering from hearing loss, however, may still be found disabled even though they probably didn’t seek treatment while in service, he said.

If the condition was diagnosed afterward – as is the case with veterans exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam — they may be eligible for compensation if they have conditions such as diabetes, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bone marrow cancer and other ailments.

VA pension. This includes aid and attendance mostly for assisted living, nursing homes and in-home adult care. If the veteran has wartime service, he and his spouse may be eligible for a VA pension if their out-of-pocket medical expenses are high — mostly due to nursing home and assisted living care costs.

“Although the VA requires that the household assets are $80,000 or less, I encourage family to begin the paperwork process well in advance, because it’s possible to gain the veteran a few extra months of pension benefits based on his intention to file,” Schneck said.

If the veteran and spouse have $150,000 in the bank and nursing home costs are rapidly depleting this balance, informing the VA that they intend to file can benefit them upon approval.

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“We have several electric wheelchairs, walkers and canes that are available for loan to Dodge County residents,” Schneck added.

Schneck said enrolling in the VA health care system is based on a household income of approximately $40,000 and less, which most retirees meet.

Enrolling with the VA health care system doesn’t mean veterans have to give up their Fremont doctors. They just need to have an annual physical with the VA Medical Center in Omaha or Lincoln to maintain enrollment, Schneck said.

Because Fremont is within 40 miles of the closest VA health care facility in Lincoln or Omaha, Fremont veterans need to drive to those cities. However, Dodge County veterans living in Hooper, North Bend, Dodge or Uehling would be eligible for the VA Choice program, because they reside more than 40 miles from those major cities.

“The VA Choice allows rural veterans the ability to see a community doctor assuming that doctor will work with the VA system,” Schneck said.

Nebraska Veterans Homes. This allows a veteran and sometimes a spouse to be enrolled with one of four VA nursing homes in Bellevue, Norfolk, Grand Island/Kearney and Scottsbluff.

The maximum cost as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services is $3,800 per month depending on the veteran’s ability to pay.

“This could be a substantial savings when considering some nursing home stays can be double that,” Schneck said.

Financial aid. Nebraska Veterans Aid offers financially challenged veterans the opportunity for dental care or assistance with utilities and mortgage payments during an interruption of income event such as an unplanned illness or medical expenses or unexpected layoff. It can assist the veteran’s family with burial if the family is unable to afford a funeral.

Schneck encourages area veterans and their family members to contact his office. The phone number is 402-727-2719.

“We have families that when they came in they discovered their parents were eligible for over $1,000 in monthly pension benefits for aid and attendance at a local nursing home due to the veteran’s service during time of war,” he said.

Schneck enjoys his work.

“It’s a very rewarding job, because you feel like you’re handing out benefits to veterans that maybe had no concept that they were eligible,” he said. “I love the job and plan to continue serving Dodge County veterans for many years.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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