VA OCONUS Connection

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VA OCONUS Connection

November 2018

From the Director's Desk

Jennifer Vandermolen

Happy Veterans Day to all of you who have served!  We are grateful to you for the sacrifies you and your family made.  I am honored to serve you.  During Veteran's month,  VA launched a new, Veteran-focused   VA talked to Veterans and, mostly importantly, listened to what they told us:  Veterans think of VA as a single entity, but delivered services in silos, forcing you to figure out how to navigate VA's different websites to get what you need.  Not anymore.  Check it out and let us know what you think!


Overseas Contract Countries

We are pleased to announce that effective October 3, 2018, additional countries have been added to the contract for Compensation examinations completed by the company, Veterans Evaluation Services (VES).  Expanding the VES contract is one of VA's modernization efforts.  This will allow VA to increase your accessibility to timely compensation and pension examinations.  If you have questions regarding the examination process, please review

The new countries under VES examination contract include:  

Bahrain Poland
Belgium Dominican Republic

Those countries who already had contract Compensation examinations available through VES include:

Germany Korea
Japan Costa Rica
Spain Panama
Thailand Mexico
Italy Australia
United Kingdom Federated States of Micronesia
Canada (Including Inuit Islands)  

Other RO Foreign VES Countries & Accompanying Regional Office Jurisdiction:

Northern Mariana Islands (Honolulu RO) Guam (Honolulu RO)
American Samoa (Honolulu RO) U.S. Virgin Islands (San Juan RO)
Puerto Rico (San Juan RO) Philippines (Manila RO)


Pittsburgh's New Foreign Email Box


We want to help you get the information you need as quickly as possibly during the claims process.  Relying on the postal system for Veterans residing abroad can delay obtaining evidence and resolving the claim.  Beginning in November, Pittsburgh RO will begin sending requests for information to your email address, in addition to "snail mail."   By sending the email, you will get VA's requests for additional evidence as soon as possible.  You can help us by making sure you include your email address on your application.  We will be using the email address,  Don't have an email address? No problem.  We will continue to send all correspondence to your address of record.  Remember, it is still important to make sure you notify VA if you change your mailing address.

Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Online Enrollment System (SOES)


As an Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard member, with full-time Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage, you can manage your coverage online using the SGLI Online Enrollment System (SOES). SGLI provides automatic life insurance coverage of up to $400,000 to Servicemembers upon enlistment. Members with SGLI also get life insurance coverage for their dependent children and spouse under the Family SGLI program.


SOES is a modern system that replaces paper. This means that you are now longer required to visit to the Personnel Office and submit a form to a Human Resource professional. Now you can view and update your SGLI coverage elections 24/7 using a personal computer. SOES is easy to use as an interface guides you through the election process step-by step. SOES also provides information about your SGLI benefits, and has an extensive built-in user guide to answer common questions about SGLI coverage.

When you complete any coverage updates, SOES allows you to save an email copy of the coverage certificate for your personal records. SOES even provides an email confirmation every time a change is made. SOES helps to track one of the most important decisions you will make as a Servicemember; the life insurance protection for you and your beneficiaries.


SOES is currently available to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force Marine Corps, Coast Guard and NOAA who have full-time SGLI coverage. In order to access SOES, you can log-in to the Milconnect portal using your Common Access Card or DSLogon user ID and Password. SOES will be located under the “Benefits” tab.


If you have any questions on using and navigating SOES, then you can contact DMDC/DEERS Support Office (DSO) at 1-800-538-9552.

Get to Know Your VA Team: Kierstin Edwards, Rating Quality Review Specialist


Kierstin Edwards

Kierstin’s federal career began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama. She was certified as “Advanced High” in Spanish by the Foreign Service Institute after working for two years as an Environmental Conservation Volunteer in her Peace Corps community. Following close of service, she was hired by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) as a Veterans Service Representative in the Pittsburgh VA Regional Office. After serving in that capacity for three years, she was promoted to the Rating Board as a Rating Service Representative (RVSR). While a RVSR, she traveled around the United States on several national initiatives and collaborated with thousands of talented VA employees. In January 2012, Kierstin was promoted to the Quality Review Team (QRT) as a Rating Quality Review Specialist. As a member of the Pittsburgh QRT, Kierstin enjoys working across business lines to improve ways of serving Veterans stateside and abroad. Most recently, she completed a detail for Central Office as a Management Analyst for VBA’s Office of Client Relations. She was grateful to work in the District of Columbia alongside the leaders who shape policy. While employed full-time at the VBA, Kierstin earned a Master of Public Policy and Management degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with honors and received the Program Faculty Award. Many of her classmates were Veterans and Active Duty Service Members.

What advice can you offer to OCONUS Veterans? 

It is never too late to continue your education. The “Forever GI Bill” act now offers Veterans the opportunity to earn a degree without the 15-year limit previously posed by the Post-9/11 GI Bill.   Several universities in the United States offer online programs which make it possible to complete your degree while residing overseas. If you want to find out more, please go to

Education Benefits You Can Count On

There are new and exciting ways the Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act (the Forever GI Bill) is making education more accessible for Veterans and their families.  When the Forever GI Bill was signed into law in August 2017, a series of updates to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefits was set into motion.

The Forever GI Bill has already removed the 15-year limitation to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill for eligible beneficiaries, assisted students affected by school closures, and credited Reserve Educational Assistance Program service lost due to the sunset of that program toward the Post-9/11 GI Bill program. Countless recipients will experience the benefits the Forever GI Bill offers.

In August 2018, many more changes went into effect, enhancing and expanding the education benefits already available to Veterans, service members, families and survivors. There are expanded options for transfer of benefits when a family member dies. VA is introducing a secure system to provided entitlement information to schools to streamline the enrollment process.  Veterans interested in enrolling in sought-after high technology programs may now be eligible to receive assistance through the August updates.  More Guard and Reserve time counts towards Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility, and benefits are expanded for Purple Heart and Fry Scholarship recipients too!

There will be more education changes in the years to come. In August 2019, up to nine months of additional benefits will be available for eligible individuals enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs.  In August 2020, benefit levels will be consolidated and expanded under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, allowing more benefits at an earlier point in time served.  In August 2022, active duty service members may be eligible to use the Yellow Ribbon program.

VA is dedicated to helping Veterans and their families navigate the twists and turns of life each step of the way. The Forever GI Bill aims to adapt GI Bill programs for the needs of today’s Veterans.  Detailed information is available on VA’s Forever GI Bill page and on the Forever GI Bill fact sheet.  Count on VA to provide the support and services needed on the road to higher education!

Foreign Medical Program

The Foreign Medical Program (FMP) is a VA health care program for Veteran residing overseas. It is also available to Veterans who are traveling overseas.   The FMP reimburses Veterans for medical services, supplies, and prescriptions for service – connected conditions or conditions aggravating a service connected disability.   Veterans with a service-connected disability are eligible to participate in the FMP.  

The application process is as follows:

  • Veterans must complete VA form 10-795F-1 and include a copy of their VA service connected disability award letter.   Note: If a Veteran cannot locate his/her VA award letter, then FMP may obtain this directly from the VA.
  • The application may be downloaded at:
  • Once the application is received and FMP verifies the Veteran’s information, then a welcome packet will be sent. This welcome packet includes the following: FMP authorization award letter, FMP handbook, and Claims forms.

Claims that are submitted for FMP reimbursement must contain information regarding the service connected condition, whether the service is medically necessary, if the service is an FMP benefit, and whether the Veteran is legally obligated to pay for the service.

  • All claims must have a claims cover sheet (VA form 10-7959F-2). The claims cover sheet must include who is to be reimbursed and include proof of payment (credit card receipt, sales receipts, etc).
  • This claim cover sheet can be downloaded at
  • There are three parts to the claim that must be completed in entirety: Patient Information, Provider Information, and Medical Information.
  • Complete medical information is required to process the claim. This includes exact dates of service from the provider, actual services performed, diagnoses from the provider, and exact billing services for services.
  • Please note that FMP only reimburses medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration ( will have a listing of approved prescriptions).
  • All payments for claims are made in US dollars and currency/charges are converted based on the date of service received.
  • Payments are made by US Treasury and are via check. There is no option for direct deposit of electronic funds transfer (EFT).

New Version of VA Form 21-526EZ Released

VBA released a new version of VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits.  While the prior version of this form (dated February 2016), was fully legally sufficient, the redesign is targeted at providing a more Veteran-friendly format for standard claims submissions, allowing for information collection that will lead to more efficient claims processing.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. If the previous version of VA form 21-526EZ is submitted and is missing certain data requested on the March 2018 version, how do we proceed with the claim processing?   Answer:  The revision of the form was a redesign to better collect information from the claimant.  The prior version of this form was fully legally sufficient in terms of fulfilling VA’s duty to inform a claimant of the information needed to support a claim.  Although some fields on the new form, such as in Question 16, ask specific questions regarding onset and etiology of claimed issues, the same type of development was previously included in the prior version of the form but in a different format.  In a situation in which the February 2016 version of the form is submitted (and is otherwise acceptable), there is no need to further develop for information collected on the new form in Question 16 or elsewhere on the form unless it is information that, when missing, we would otherwise need to conduct additional development for.   
  2. Is the previous version of VA Form 21-526EZ (February 2016) usable for VA claims? Answer: M21-1, Part III, Subpart ii, 1.C.8.a lists the circumstances in which a prior version of a form may be accepted.  In general, a prior version of a form may be accepted for one year after the newest version.  The new version of VA Form 21-526EZ is dated March 2018.  Therefore, the old version (February 2016) is acceptable until March 2019.  Refer to M21-1, Part III, Subpart ii, 1.C.8.b-c for more information on determining the date a form becomes outdated. 
  3. What happens if a claimant doesn’t check either the box for FDC or the Standard Claim Process box in Question 1?   Answer: If the claimant does not check either box, default to processing the claim through the FDC program.  If additional evidence is still needed then the standard claim process will apply.    If the standard claim process applies due to the need for additional development but the claimant did not select FDC, there is no need to send the FDC Writeout Letter. 
  4. What happens if a claimant checks both boxes for FDC and Standard Claim Process in Question 1?   Answer: If the claimant checks both the FDC and the Standard Claim Process boxes, default to processing the claim through the FDC program.  If additional evidence is still needed then the Standard Claim Process will apply.  When FDC exclusion is necessary in this situation, since the claimant did select the FDC process, send the FDC Writeout Letter.   

Accepting Outdated Forms

The general guidance is that VA cannot accept outdated versions of forms since they do not conform with the Paperwork Reduction Act and associated policies and procedures of the Office of Management and Budget.   However, the manual guidance provides exceptions to this rule, that is, VA will accept outdated forms in limited circumstances, to include:

  1. When the form is generated through a VA electronic claims submission system such as eBenefits, SEP, D2D, or other VA system that includes form-generation capacity.
  2. As an interim procedure pending appropriate system updates when submitted by an authorized VSO representative whether submitted electronically or by paper.
  3. When VA forms are not submitted by a VSO representative, VA will accept an outdated form for 12-months after a revision of a form to allow for depletion of existing stock of forms and/or system updates.

In certain circumstances, an outdated VA Form 21-4142, Authorization to Disclose Information to the Department of Veterans Affairs may be accepted and utilized to request private medical evidence.

Revision of VA Form 21-2680

VBA will soon be releasing the September 2018 version of VA Form 21-2680, Examination for Housebound Status or Permanent Need for Regular Aid and Attendance. The redesign of VA Form 21-2680 is targeted at providing a more Veteran-friendly format for standard claims submissions, allowing for information collection that will lead to more efficient claims processing.  

The following is a list of changes made in the redesign of VA Form 21-2680 and is follows: 

• modified to include optical character recognition

organized into sections to clarify the intent of this application

added question 13 to describe which benefit the claimant is applying for; Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) or Special Monthly Pension (SMP)

• revised question 31 (replaced old question 27) to provide more clarity in regard to whether the claimant in question does or does not have the mental capacity to manage his or her benefit payments or if he or she is able to direct someone to do so. 

VBA would like to encourage the use of this new version; however, until existing stocks are depleted and/or our systems are updated, VA may continue to use the May 2015 version of VA Form 21-2680 until September 2019, one year after the newest version was approved.

Revision of VA Form 21-686c

VBA will soon be releasing a new version of VA Form 21-686c, Application Request to Add and/or Remove Dependents. While the prior version of this form (dated June 2017), was fully legally sufficient, the redesign is targeted at providing a more Veteran-friendly format for dependency claims submissions, allowing for information collection that will lead to more efficient claims processing.

 The following is a preliminary list of new features provided within the form:

created a new title

provided new instruction packet to include information on the evidence needed to submit a dependency claim;

Added a table of contents to better identify which sections were for adding a dependent versus removing a dependent;

Added a directory to identify which dependency form is needed to apply for certain additional benefits;

Included sectional formatting to clarify the intent of the application; and

Added an addendum to provide space for additional dependents.

When are Routine Future Examinations Needed?

Medical Exam

In order to prevent unnecessary review examination requests, VBA limits such requests to cases in which their outcomes are absolutely necessary, such as when:

  • there is a need to verify the continued existence of severity of a service-connected disability
  • it is likely that a service-connected disability has improved or materially changed
  • the current rating may be incorrect, or
  • it is otherwise required by the regulation or diagnostic code under which the disability is evaluated. 

Please note, future examinations are NOT requested in the following circumstances:

  • service-connected disability is static, without material improvement over five years
  • service-connected disability is permanent in character and of such nature that there is no likelihood of improvement
  • Veteran is over 55 years of age (except under unusual circumstances or where required by regulation)
  • evaluation is the prescribed schedular minimum within its diagnostic code
  • evaluation is 10 percent or less, or
  • combined evaluation would not change even if the reexamination resulted in a reduced evaluation for one or more disabilities.

Military Sexual Trauma Claims


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that military members can develop after experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events such as combat, natural disasters, personal trauma, or other traumatic events known as stressors.  A Veteran must have a current diagnosis of PTSD, credible evidence that the stressor occurred during military service, and a link between the current PTSD symptoms and the in-service stressor for VBA to establish service connection for PTSD.  VBA defines Military Sexual Trauma (MST) as a subset of PTSD personal trauma claims, specifically related to sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape that occurred in a  military setting.  VA is aware that, because of the nature of MST stressors, it is often difficult for a victim to report or document the event when it occurs.  Because of the difficulty in obtaining evidence of MST-related stressors, VBA provided further guidance in 2011 to ensure consistency, fairness, and a liberal approach for MST-related claims.  VBA procedures require claims processors to follow additional steps for MST related claims to give Veterans every opportunity to prove their claims.  Some of the these additional steps include: 

  • contact with the Veteran by the MST coordinator
  • use of MST-specific development language
  • stressor verification development, including requesting reports from Department of Defense and review of records for behavioral changes (i.e. “markers”) at or around the time of the stressor event, and
  • examination requests using MST-specific opinion request language (IV.ii.1.D.6.c).  

 At the Pittsburgh VA Regional Office, MST claims are adjudicated by a specialized team of subject matter experts.  Each VA Regional Office has two MST Coordinators (one male & one female) designated as the point of contact for Veterans with MST-related claims. MST Coordinators at the Pittsburgh Regional Office are Rebecca Knapp (412.482.5238) and Jamie Anderson (412.482.5225). 

Burial COLA Rates

Section 501 of Public Law 111-275, Section 501, instituted Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for certain burial rates.  The rates increase based upon the annual increase in the Consume Price Index for Urban Wage-Earners (CPI-W).  The annual COLA increase, effective October 1 2018, will be at a rate of 2.3373%.  The applicable rates will be increased to $780.00.

Burial COLA Rates

VA's Rule Updates Pension Regulations


WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amended its regulations governing entitlement to VA pension and other VA needs-based benefit programs. VA’s amended regulations help maintain the integrity of and provide clarity to its needs-based pension program. These changes ensure qualified wartime Veterans and survivors receive these benefits.

“The amended regulations bring consistency to the pension process and ensure benefits are available for Veterans and survivors with financial need,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

VA's pension program provides monthly benefit payments to eligible wartime Veterans and their survivors with financial need.

The revised regulations promote consistent decisions by establishing a bright-line net worth limit and including a look-back and penalty period for pre-application transfers of assets at less than fair market values and clarify which medical expenses may be deducted from countable income. This ensures that VA only pays benefits to those with genuine need.

The updated regulations:

  • Establish a clear limit on the amount of net worth a claimant may have to qualify for pension.
  • Establish a 36-month (3 years) look-back period to review for asset transfers at less than fair market value, that reduce net worth and create pension entitlement.      
  • Establish up to a 5-year penalty period to be calculated based on the portion of the covered assets that would have made net worth excessive.      
  • Updates medical expense definitions for consistency with VBA internal guidelines.

For more information on the VA pension program, go to

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. They understand what Servicemembers and Veterans have been through and the challenges members of the military and their loved ones face.

The Military Crisis Line staff can connect you with services to help get your life back on track.

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).

There are a number of ways individuals can reach VCL.  How they reach the VCL overseas is dependent on location.  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. If you submit a claim in the future, consider filing through eBenefits. Filing electronically, especially if you participate in our fully developed claim program, may result in a faster decision than if you submit your claim through the mail.

How to get an eBenefits account

You can manage and apply for benefits online using eBenefits. 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 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 or by telephone at 06371-9464-8200.

The Camp Humphreys, South Korea office is located in the One-Stop BLDG, BLDG 6400, office V3014 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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