VA Benefits for Former Prisoners Of War
As a former POW you are eligible for special veterans benefits, including medical care in VA hospitals and disability compensation for injuries and diseases caused by internment. These benefits are in addition to regular veterans benefits and services to which you, as a veteran, are entitled.
Starvation, exposure to the elements and other things encountered by POWs have been proven to cause long term damage, of which you may not be aware, to vital organs. Now, many years later many common conditions that you may now have (like arthritis, heart disease, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, etc.) can be directly traced back to your incarceration as a prisoner of war and as such you are entitled to receive VA disability compensation for them.
The laws on former POW benefits recognize that military medical records do not cover periods of captivity. A former POW is eligible for disability compensation if any of the presumptive disabilities are found at any time at a compensable level (at least 10 percent disabling). For POWs detained for 30 days or more, it will be presumed that the disability was incurred in or aggravated during military service, unless there is evidence of some other cause.
Compensation is paid based on the degree of disability. Veterans rated as 30 percent or more disabled qualify for additional benefits based upon the number of dependents. Dependents of those rated 100 percent disabled may qualify for educational assistance. Spouses of veterans who die as a result of service-connected disabilities are eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation.
Spouses of former POWs rated 100% disabled for one year or more prior to death are eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation.
For assistance, call the VA at the number listed above. They can direct you to a knowledgeable service officer in your area.
State and County Veterans Service Officers, employed by their respective states, also know their way around the VA system. They can assist veterans and their families in a number of ways. Services Officers can help you with compensation/pensions, medical care, military records, grave markers and veteran home loans. Some counties may also have dedicated funds to assist you with temporary shelter/utilities, food/health supplies, medical/dental, job placement, counseling, and transportation.
By law, an individual must be accredited by VA as an agent, attorney, or representative of a VA-recognized veterans service organization to assist in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of a claim for VA benefits. 38 U.S.C. §§ 5901-5902, 5904; 38 C.F.R. § 14.629. VA regulations provide a one-time only exception to this general rule, which authorizes a person to provide assistance on a particular claim, but such assistance must be without cost to the claimant and is otherwise subject to the laws governing representation. 38 C.F.R. § 14.630. An individual who is not accredited by VA is otherwise prohibited by law from assisting claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims before VA.
By law, no person or organization may charge claimants a fee for assistance in preparing applications for VA benefits or presenting claims to VA. VA-accredited agents and attorneys may charge fees for assistance on a claim for VA benefits only after VA has issued a decision on a claim, a Notice of Disagreement has been filed initiating an appeal of that decision, and the agent or attorney has complied with the power-of-attorney requirements in 38 C.F.R. § 14.631 and the fee agreement requirements in 38 C.F.R. § 14.636(g). 38 U.S.C. § 5904(c)(1); 38 C.F.R. § 14.636(c).
Presumptive Conditions for Disability Compensation
Certain veterans are eligible for disability compensation based on the presumption that their disability is service-connected. In addition to the presumptives for various classes of veterans (i.e. Agent Orange, ALS, etc.) certain disabilities are presumptives unique to former prisoners of war.
For former POWs who were imprisoned for any length of time, the following disabilities are presumed to be service-connected if they are rated at least 10 percent disabling anytime after military service: psychosis, any of the anxiety states, dysthymic disorder, organic residuals of frostbite, post-traumatic osteoarthritis, heart disease or hypertensive vascular disease and their complications, stroke and residuals of stroke.
For former POWs who were imprisoned for at least 30 days, the following conditions are also presumed to be service-connected: avitaminosis, beriberi, chronic dysentery, helminthiasis, malnutrition (including optic atrophy), pellagra and/or other nutritional deficiencies, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer disease, peripheral neuropathy, osteoporosis (with PTSD) and cirrhosis of the liver.
Only a doctor can make the final decision, but the Service Officer can help you write your history so the facts are presented. You and your spouse can sit down with an NSO, go carefully over the necessary forms, and then talk you about what is happening in your life that may make you eligible for compensation. He or she will make no promises, but will put forth every effort to assist you.