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Analysis: Many vets unaware of their benefits

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 8:32 p.m.

WASHINGTON — More than half of America's veterans say they have little or no understanding of the benefits due them, despite efforts over the years to match returning soldiers with the help and services they need.

An analysis of Department of Veterans Affairs survey data found that younger veterans — those who served in the post-9/11 war period — are better versed in their benefits. But even among those veterans, 40 percent say they have little or no understanding of their benefits, a figure that climbs to two-thirds for those unfamiliar with life insurance benefits available.

The VA said it's working hard to boost benefits awareness and has taken steps in recent years to do so.

One major change will occur on Wednesday when a new law will mandate all departing service members go through a series of detailed benefits sessions. Until now, participation in such sessions varied by service and was often optional.

The VA had been reaching 150,000 service members per year; under the mandatory, beefed-up, sessions, that is expected to rise to 307,000.

McClatchy Newspapers analyzed the VA's 2010 National Survey of Veterans, conducted about every 10 years to determine the state of America's veterans. McClatchy also reviewed benefits data by state in 2011, the most recent year available.

Among all veterans, 59 percent said their understanding of available benefits was “a little” or “not at all,” according to the analysis.

But there were some wide swings:

•Among older veterans, including those from Vietnam, Korea and World War II, 55 percent or more have little or no understanding of their benefits; among veterans from the period between Korea and Vietnam, lack of understanding shot to 65 percent.-Among younger veterans, 40 percent had little or no understanding.

•Asked specifically about life insurance benefits, 80 percent said they have little or no understanding of them, including 62 percent who said they have no understanding at all.

• Asked about education benefits, younger veterans — who would be most likely to use them — have far greater understanding of what's available than their older brethren. Even so, 41 percent said they have little or no understanding of those benefits, which include several different and sometimes overlapping programs.

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