VA Benefits and Natural Disasters
In the summer of 2023, wildfires decimated portions of Hawaii on the island of Maui. One town, Lahaina, was completely wiped out by the fires, said to be the worst in the United States in over a century.
Hawaii has a large veteran population and many experience complications or interruptions of VA benefits as a result of any natural disaster. What should veterans or servicemembers do if they have trouble accessing or receiving VA benefits such as the GI Bill or VA disability payments?
The Department of Veterans Affairs publishes VA benefit guidelines for natural disasters, but there’s one crucial detail to remember.
Not all VA benefits are the same. Some benefits may require a Presidential declaration of a federal disaster area to be used. This is typically true with VA home loans and foreclosure relief.
The VA official site does not seem to clearly indicate whether the benefits discussed below are conditional upon such a federal declaration, but it’s safe to assume you must contact both the school and the VA in the wake of a natural disaster to learn what your options are.
Is there such a requirement in your time of need? Ask the VA when you contact them. For education benefits the disaster declaration is likely not a factor, but it’s important to ask about official VA policy in this area at the time of need as regulations are subject to change.
Related: VA Home Loan Guide
VA Education Benefits and Natural Disasters
If a natural disaster causes your school to close temporarily, the VA considered your attendance as continuous. The VA benefits official page says in such cases, “your benefits will not be affected.”
Post 9/11 GI BIll and Natural Disasters
Some VA education benefits have specific requirements in these cases. For example, those using Chapter 33 (Post-9/11 GI Bill) or Chapter 35 (Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Program) should know “As long as the enrollment was submitted prior to the recent disaster, no further action is necessary to continue to receive benefits.”
Montgomery GI Bill and Natural Disasters
For those attending using the Montgomery GI Bill, you should continue to attend “until further notice as if the school did not close. Doing so will ensure that benefits are not affected.”
Those in the Chapter 33 program currently required to verify enrollment when receiving a Monthly Housing Allowance or “kickers” should also keep verifying their attendance until further notice as if the school did not close.
Did your school stay open after the disaster, but you could not attend classes? VA policy here is simple. VA.gov say in these cases, “VA is unable to continue GI Bill benefit payments. When you no longer pursue classes, your school must report the termination to VA as soon as possible.”
Get Help From the Department of Veterans Affairs on Education Benefits After a Disaster
Do you need help with VA education benefits after a natural disaster? Contact the VA Education Call Center at 1-888-442-4551.
VA Natural Disaster Policy on VA Benefit Payments
VA published a natural disaster policy on what to do if you aren’t receiving the benefits you are due.
“If a Veteran or beneficiary does not/cannot receive a benefits payment due to the effects of the natural disaster and indicates financial hardship, the contact center agents must request a one-time special payment address where a replacement payment can be sent.”
You can do this by Direct Deposit or via the Veterans Benefits Banking Program, which can “issue a same-day EFT payment to affected Veterans.”
There is also a VA disaster policy for insurance benefits, which includes “assistance to help ease the hardships of those affected. VA offers Instant Loan Approval online and expedited same-day processing for policy loans when Veterans contact the Call Center.”
Veterans can reach the VA Insurance Center at 1-800-669-8477 or OSGLI at 1-800-419-1473.
Trouble Getting VA Benefits After a Natural Disaster
If you experience delays or missed benefit payments after a disaster, call the Department of Veterans Affairs National Call Center to learn how to request a one-time payment to offset the financial hardship of missed payments. Call 1-800-827-1000 for assistance.
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.