Keeping your VA benefits and services flowing during hurricane season

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By Connecting Vets

It’s hurricane season and another storm is heading towards the United States.  Here’s some VA information that you need to know before, during and after the storm hits.

Is my VA open?

Just like in the military, the operating status for all Veterans Affairs facilities is posted daily.  To find your medical center or facility, go to the locations section of the VA website.  The country is split into separate Veterans Integrated Service Networks or VISNs.  Click on the VISN number that corresponds with your state. 

Next, find your medical center.  Don’t worry about the outpatient clinics or CBOC links, you’ll find the operating status for these smaller clinics under the umbrella of the larger medical center.  Once you locate your primary medical center, find the operating status button at the bottom of the grey links on the left side of the page.  You can subscribe to receive text updates here so you know about closures as they happen.  You can also find links to emergency services in your area at this site. 

Pharmacy Disaster Relief Plan

During natural disasters, when medical centers are closed or too difficult to access, VA will activate the Pharmacy Disaster Relief Plan.  This allows veterans with a VA ID card to take either a written prescription or an active VA prescription bottle to specific locations and receive a 14-day supply of medication. 

Once activated, information on VA’s Pharmacy Disaster Relief Plan will be listed on the operating status page of your primary VAMC.   

Educational benefits

If you are attending a school that is closed due to the storm, VA considers your attendance active and continuous.  This means your payment will not be affected as long as your enrollment was submitted before this storm hit.  If you are using the Montgomery G.I. Bill, you should continue to verify your attendance as usual, even if your school is closed.  For any questions about the VA’s educational benefits, call the Education Call Center at 888-442-4551.

Benefit payments

If you haven’t already, you may want to call (800) 827-1000 and sign up for the Direct Express Cardless Benefit Access program.  If normal mail delivery is affected by storms, veterans using Direct Express and who are living in affected areas may get up to $1,000 even if they’ve lost their card. 

Due to system limitations, a fee is charged, then refunded to the beneficiary.  To retrieve the money, veterans need to go to a MoneyGram store.  Proper ID will be required before you can get your cash.  The stores accept passports, driver’s license, military ID, SSN and state ID cards.  The beneficiary must also have a MoneyGram reference number that is provided by the Direct Express Call Center and that phone number is (888) 741-1115.  If you can’t get to a MoneyGram store, the funds are placed on your Direct Express card.

Veterans with a VA home loan

If you have a VA loan and your home was affected by a hurricane or any other natural disaster, here’s what you need to do. 

  1. Contact FEMA.You can call (800) 621-3362 for help or start the disaster application process online.  Make sure you register with FEMA before their deadline expires.
  2. Contact your mortgage company. You’re responsible for making regular monthly payments, even if your home is not habitable. If you’re unable to make payments on time, ask about forbearance or a loan modification. Also, ask your lender to explain procedures for insurance loss checks, repairs to your property and payments to contractors.
  3. File an insurance claim as soon as possible. But don’t make a settlement on insurance too fast. If your property is damaged, but repayable, try to get a local engineer’s office to inspect your home. Key to remember with insurance: checks for personal property and living expenses should be payable to only you. Checks for damage to your home should be payable to both you and your mortgage company.
  4. Change your address. If you’re receiving a monthly benefit check from VA or another source, but you aren’t able to receive mail at your regular address, notify your local post office and VA Regional Office.
  5. For veterans who had their home adapted through the VA Specially Adapted Housing grant program, you may be able to get help with your repairs. Contact the Specially Adapted Housing Program at 877-824-3702 for more info.

Deployable resources

When applicable, VA has a fleet of deployable resources that allows the agency to keep services available for veterans.  When sent to needed areas, these mobile units are listed on the operating status page of your primary VA medical center.

This article was originally published in October 2018
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