MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Ray Regelein’s message to servicemembers who soon will be separating or retiring from the military: Don’t delay.

A Department of Veterans Affairs representative, Regelein was at Misawa last week to talk to military personnel about VA benefits they may qualify for after stepping out of their uniform.

One question he hears time and again concerns disability compensation, Regelein said. Though it’s easier to qualify for these benefits than one may think — knee injuries, for example, are common — it’s important to establish that service connection early rather than 20 years down the road.

“I always tell people ‘don’t delay,’” Regelein said. “Make sure they file a claim with the VA and let us make the decision.”

Servicemembers can qualify for disability compensation if they’ve suffered an injury or illness while on active duty that leaves any kind of residual effect, “no matter how minor,” Regelein said. The benefits include priority medical care at VA facilities, and, depending on the degree of disability, monetary compensation.

Even a heart condition, high blood pressure or diabetes may qualify as service-connected for personnel who were in the service for many years, Regelein said, as long as it was diagnosed while the member was on active duty and drug or alcohol abuse wasn’t involved.

Regelein has been working from Yokosuka Naval Base since January, where he’s temporarily assigned to cover U.S. military bases in the Tokyo area north to Misawa as part of the Defense Department’s overseas military program. VA representatives rotate in and out of Japan about every five months for the program. Regelein visits Misawa about once a month to speak at the Family Support Center’s new Transition Assistance Program Benefits Brief for personnel getting ready to retire or separate from the service.

Another VA representative is scheduled to visit Misawa March 17-18. To book a one-on-one consultation or to reserve a spot at the group briefing, call 226-4735. For more information about VA benefits, go to Questions to Regelein may be sent to:

Other VA issues

Other issues Department of Veterans Affairs representative Ray Regelein often fields questions about include:

Education benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill: Regelein encourages servicemembers to enroll in the “kicker” program. Under the Montgomery GI Bill, servicemembers who served their full enlistment may receive an education entitlement of up to $1,004 a month for 36 months. By adding $600 to their initial contribution of $1,200, military members can increase their monthly entitlement by $150 a month, Regelein said. “You have to put the money in before you separate from the service.”Home loan program: The VA guarantees a portion of a loan up to $249,000 to the lender in lieu of a down payment from the veteran. Regelein said loans may run as high as $359,000, though with higher amounts a down payment may be involved. The VA funding fee of half a percent may be waived if the servicemember has a disability rated by the VA of 10 percent or more. Those fees also can be rolled into the loan itself, Regelein said.Vocational Rehabilitation Services: Veterans with a disability rated 20 percent or more are entitled to training under the VA’s vocational rehabilitation program. The program helps disabled veterans acquire the skills they need for employment and find a job.Higher VA health care enrollment fees: Some members of Congress are proposing to impose an enrollment fee of at least $230 a year on 2.4 million veterans who are neither poor nor suffering from service-connected disabilities. “Like every other agency, we’re at the mercy of funding, but you’ll never have to pay for treatment for a service-connected condition,” Regelein said.— Jennifer Svan

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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