VA OCONUS Connection

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Seal of the US Department of Veterans Affairs

VA OCONUS Connection

December 2019

From the Director's Desk

Jennifer Vandermolen

I am happy to report that on December 2, VA introduced the VA Solid Start, a program to help meet the needs of service members during transition.  VA is calling every newly separated service member three times during their first year of separation.  The goal is to help establish a strong relationship between VA and those transitioning, promoting awareness of VA benefits, services, and partner resources available.  VA is reaching out both by phone and email to help Veterans build a solid start in civilian life.   Keep your contact information up-to-date in eBenefits to make sure we reach you!   Happy Holidays to all of you and a Happy New Year!

Blue Water Navy Update

Blue Water Navy Veterans are now entitled to a presumption of service connection for illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure. This is a result of Public Law 116-23, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019. The law was signed on June 25, 2019, and takes effect on January 1, 2020. 

If you are not sure if your vessel was in the designated area, you can still file a claim.  VA has established a special team specifically designated to research military and service treatment records and to determine whether a Veteran served in the eligible offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam.  To help us make that determination, VA encourages claimants to file a claim and submit any information of service in the Republic of Vietnam for any length of time between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, aboard a U.S. military vessel that operated less than 12 nautical miles from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia.  The specific area is defined in the Blue Water Navy Act of 2019.  More information about Blue Water Navy Veterans can be found at

If you had a claim that was previously denied, we urge you to file a supplemental claim.  Provide any new and relevant information regarding your claim such as dates you believe your ship traveled within 12 nautical miles of the Republic of Vietnam or updated medical information.  Claims that are currently in the VA review process or under decision review will be reviewed under the new policy.

If you have more questions about this change in law, please read our fact sheet: 

   Blue Water Navy Veterans and Agent Orange (PDF)

VA Releases Survivors Quick Start Guide 

Each person experiences grief differently when a loved one passes, but survivors should not feel confused about what to do next. The Survivors Quick Start Guide provides Veteran family members and caregivers a reference guide for what to do next.

Part of VA’s Welcome Kit, the Survivors quick start guide begins with a step by step checklist for preparing, applying for, and following up on the available benefits. Each step spells out in plain language what to do, what forms to fill out, and who to call if you need help.

The guide also helps families identify VA Survivor benefits and services for which they may be eligible.

The frequently asked questions in the guide include topics such as, “How would a spouse or dependent know what survivor benefits they may be eligible for?” and “As a surviving spouse am I eligible for healthcare?”

To download the Survivor's guide, visit: 

Survivor Quick Start Guide

*This article originally appeared on  To read this article in it's entirety, visit:

VA Blog - VA Releases Survivor's Quick Start Guide

Tips to Expedite Processing of Your Dependency Claim

If you reside outside of the United States, VA requires that you submit evidence to support your claim to add a spouse or child as a dependent. You are required to submit a completed VA Form 21-686C Declaration of Status of Dependents.(Link to form)   This can be submitted through your eBenefits account or by mail. In addition to this completed form, please submit copies of documentation that support all:

  • marriage
  • dissolution of a marriage
  • birth of a child
  • introduction of a stepchild into a Veteran’s family

If your spouse or child is not a US citizen and has no Social Security number, please state that on the VA Form 21-686c.

By submitting these documents, it will help expedite the processing of your claim.

PX Privileges for More Disabled Veterans

The DoD, VA and the Department of Homeland Security are collaborating to implement the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018 for those who will be eligible for this benefit on Jan. 1, 2020.  We understand that the access for Veteran’s abroad may be limited based on additional factors and we recommend you contact the Customs Office at your nearest facility to obtain specific information regarding access.   While not all Veterans are eligible for in-person privileges on DoD installations, all honorably discharged Veterans are eligible for online military exchange shopping through the Veterans Online Shopping Benefit. Veterans not eligible for in-person privileges should follow the instructions to establish an account at any of the following military exchange websites, or the VA's Veterans Canteen Service:

Related articles:

VA.Gov: Get Veteran ID Cards

Get to Know Your VA Team: Heidi Rhodes, BDD Germany OIC

Heidi Rhodes

Heidi Rhodes has been an advocate for Veterans since June of 2000 when she began working for the Military Order of the Purple Heart. She joined the Veterans Benefits Administration as a Veterans Service Representative at the Columbia VA Regional Office in August 2009 and transferred to the Nashville VA Regional Office in May 2013. Heidi was promoted to Supervisor of the Public Contact and BDD/IDES Teams in June 2015. She is a 2015 graduate of the Leadership Enhancement and Development (LEAD) program. She is a 2018 graduate of the Leadership Enrichment and Progression (LEAP) program. Before accepting a reassignment as the Officer in Charge in Germany, Heidi supervised a claims production team.

Heidi’s father is retired Army and her mother is a retired Methodist minister. She grew up in Virginia, Germany, and South Carolina. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Women’s Studies from the University of South Carolina. She enjoys traveling, playing poker tournaments, and kayaking. She is married and lives with her spouse, two stepdaughters, and her dog, Regan.

How to file a claim online?

Don’t put off filing a claim for compensation benefits!  VA has transformed the way you learn about and apply for benefits.  You can complete disability compensation claim applications online using this digital tool.  Need help, VA has released tutorials providing instructions on how to log-in, start filing a claim, and track existing compensation claims.  Visit the full tutorial series for instructions.

New applicants to VRE:  What is the next step?

If you are a new overseas applicant to Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VRE), you will receive notice either from a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) or an Overseas Contractor. The purpose of this initial contact is to schedule an evaluation and to obtain information for an entitlement to this benefit. 

If you have been referred to a contractor and you are unable to travel to the appointment, you may request a telecounseling with your VRC.

Telecounseling is an option for you to meet with your VRC in real time via the VA video connect system. You may require additional connectivity as an overseas Veteran , which you may discuss directly with your VRC.

If you have any additional questions regarding the application and evaluation process, you may contact the Pittsburgh Regional Office directly at 412-395-6070 or via email:

Chapter 35

VA's Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (Chapter 35) program provides education and training opportunities to eligible dependents and survivors of certain Veterans.

Basic Eligibility:

Eligible individuals are Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ dependents, spouses and surviving spouses who have been found eligible by the Regional Processing Office (RPO) because of one of the following:

  • The Veteran’s death was caused by the service-connected disability
  • The Veteran is rated for total and permanent service-connected disability
  • The Servicemember is Missing in Action (MIA)
  • The Servicemember is captured in the line of duty
  • The Servicemember is forcibly detained for longer than 90 days
  • The Servicemember who VA determines has a service-connected permanent and total disability that will result in a discharge from military service
  • Participants include a dependent child between the ages of 14 to 31 and a spouse, or surviving spouse, who qualifies for the benefit

 Services Include: 

 It's simple to apply. Just follow these steps: 

If you do not have access to you may:

  • Open and Print VA Form 22-5490, Dependents Application for VA Education Benefits
  • Complete and mail the form to your nearest VA Regional Processing Office, which has jurisdiction over the State where you’ll advance your education and training 

Together We Served: A Website to Locate Friends from Service

find your buddy

Tracking down old friends, particularly if you have been out of the service many years, is not always easy - but there is a company that can help. Together We Served (TWS) is a Veteran-only website, launched in 2003. It provides Veterans a highly-effective means to reconnect with old service-friends by simply entering their service history on their TWS Military Service Page.

Take this opportunity to reconnect with the servicemen and women with whom you shared some of the most important times of your life. In recognition of your service, Together We Served provides all VA Veterans with a FREE One Year Premium Membership, providing unlimited people searches, when you join TWS via the following link:

Free One-Year Premium Together We Served Membership

*This article originally appeared on To read this article in its entirety, visit:

Changes to Monthly Housing Allowance

On December 1, updates went live in VA’s education processing systems and all Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) rates since then have been processed in accordance with new MHA rules. Starting in December, you may see your MHA rate change.

To keep you informed, we’ve outlined key information below.

Your MHA may change based on where you physically attend the majority of your classes.

Previously, GI Bill students were paid MHA based on the location of the main or branch campus of the school where enrolled. If you attended classes at more than one location, you were paid the rate that was most advantageous. Now, MHA is based on the campus location where you physically attend the majority of your classes.

Your MHA rate may change based on the date you first used your Chapter 33 entitlement.

Based on the date you first used your Chapter 33 entitlement; your MHA rate will fall into one of three categories.

  • If your first time ever using the Post 9/11 GI Bill was prior to January 1, 2018, you will continue to receive the VA MHA rate.
  • If your first time using the Post 9/11 GI Bill was between January 1, 2018 and July 31, 2018 you will receive the VA MHA rate for Academic Year 2017-2018 until the DoD BAH rate for an E-5 with dependents rate exceeds this rate.
  • If you started using your Post-9/11 GI Bill on or after August 1, 2018, your MHA rate could go down by as much as $89/month on December 1 to align with DoD rates.

After you begin receiving the correct MHA, your base rate may be impacted by enrollment changes such as annual rate adjustments, change in credit hours, or changing programs or locations.

Estimate your MHA

The best way to determine MHA rate is to check the GI Bill Comparison Tool at This tool provides MHA rates for main, branch campuses and extension campuses. Follow the steps below to receive an estimate of your MHA.

  1. Search and select your school’s main campus from the list.
  2. Scroll down to "Where will you take the majority of your classes?"
  3. Select "Other Location" or "An Extension Campus."
  4. Enter the zip code of the other location or select the location from the drop down.

Please note: If you were overpaid or underpaid because of these changes, you will not have to appeal or apply for a corrected payment. VA will work with your school to determine any underpayment or overpayment, and issue payments. All students will receive a letter informing them of whether they were overpaid, underpaid or not impacted.

Contact your School Certifying Official (SCO) or refer to the attached infographic for more information.

If you have questions, call the VBA Education Hotline at 1-888-GI-BILL-1 (1-888-442-4551). For students outside the U.S., call 001-918-781-5678.

Monthly Housing Allowance MHA part 2

For more information on upcoming MHA rate changes, please review:

VA's Forever GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance Guide

Employment Opportunities


USAID leads international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance and help people progress beyond assistance.  There are opportunities worldwide with this agency.  Here you will find more about the agency.   If you are interested, check out the website for current vacancies.


KBR is a leading global engineering, construction, and services company.  KBR supports the hydrocarbon and government services markets on six continents. Serving customers through diverse business units, they offer challenging assignments on some of the world's largest and most complex projects.  Careers are worldwide.  Find more information here.

Thinking of separating from the Military? 

Please view this BDD promotional YouTube video that details VA Benefits Delivery and Discharge program requirements and benefits of participating in the program. 

VA Welcome Kit

Whether you’re just getting out of the service or you’ve been a civilian for years now, the VA Welcome Kit can help guide you to the benefits and services you’ve earned.

Based on where you are in life, your VA benefits and services can support you in different ways. Keep your welcome kit handy so you can turn to it throughout your life—like when it’s time to go to school, get a job, buy a house, get health care, retire, or make plans for your care as you age.

Feel free to share this guide with friends or family members who need help with their benefits too. Download your VA Welcome Kit and print out copies for yourself and others!

Veterans Crisis Line

Crisis feels different for everybody and can be caused by a wide range of situations before, during, or after military service.  The Military Crisis Line is staffed by caring, qualified responders from VA — some of whom have served in the military themselves.

Confidential support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year through the Military Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1), online chat and text (838255).

You can visit this link to see how Veterans, Service members or their loved ones can reach VCL from Europe, Korea and Afghanistan.

  • In Europe call 00800 1273 8255 or DSN 118 *
  • In Korea call 0808 555 118 or DSN 118
  • In Afghanistan call 00 1 800 273 8255 or DSN 111

* In Europe, toll-free service may not be available through all carriers or in all countries


Foreign Medical Program (FMP)

The Foreign Medical Program (FMP) is a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care benefits program for U.S. Veterans who are residing or traveling abroad and have VA-rated, service-connected disabilities. Under FMP, VA assumes payment responsibility for certain necessary health care services received in foreign countries and associated with the treatment of service-connected disabilities, or any disability associated with and held to be aggravating a service-connected condition. Additionally, VA may authorize necessary foreign medical services for any condition for a Veteran participating in the VA Vocational Rehabilitation Program (38 U.S.C. 31). For more information, to include submitting claims for reimbursement, please visit here.



What is eBenefits?

Enrolling in eBenefits is easy. Just visit for more information.

How to get an eBenefits account

If you don’t already have an eBenefits account, you can register on the DS Logon Registration page. Instead of using your APO address for registering on eBenefits, use your last recorded United States address.

For dependents of Veterans without a social security number, you must do the following:

Contact the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) at 1-800-538-9552.

    • Provide your dependent's Foreign ID number.
    • Obtain a generated social security number provided by DMDC.
    • Use the generated social security number for registration in eBenefits.
    • You can visit the eBenefits help page for assistance with registering for an account or you can call 1-800 372-7437.


Contact Information for BDD/Public Contact Offices in Germany & Korea

The Landstuhl, Germany office is located in building 3724 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and can be reached by e-mail at

The Camp Humphreys, South Korea office is located in the One-Stop BLDG, BLDG 6400, office V301, next door to the SFL-TAP office and can be reached by email at or by telephone at DSN 757-2911 or 2912 or commercial 050-3357-2911 or 2912. 


Help Us Spread the Word

Please encourage Veterans residing abroad with whom you come in contact to subscribe to “Veterans Abroad” to receive bulletins and information specific to Veterans residing abroad.  Veterans may subscribe to the email service by clicking here


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