The Benefits Box

THE BENEFITS BOX A service of PVA’s National Service Officers
This Benefits Box has been provided by PVA Health and Benefits Specialist II Charles Tocci, based in PVA’s Syracuse, N.Y. Regional Office.

The ReWalk Exoskeleton System

As we all fight with technology on a daily basis, the company ReWalk Robotics has produced a new gadget that is changing our member’s lives nationwide. In December, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first powered exoskeleton to be issued for personal use, which is called the ReWalk, and is quickly gaining popularity.

What is the ReWalk?

The ReWalk is an exoskeleton system that allows individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI) to sit, stand, turn and walk. The system is carefully adjusted specifically for each person and strapped to the user.  The main goal of the system is to mimic natural gait in a controlled, independent system while being accompanied by a trained companion.

How can I get a ReWalk?

Although process is lengthy and entails an involved procedure, the product is not difficult to obtain. The evaluation can be initiated in a few ways. First; you can self-refer yourself. Second; your VA provider may contact your SCI Center, and as always, you may reach out to your local National Service Officer (NSO) to assist you in obtaining the ReWalk.

Once a consult has been placed, you must undergo a comprehensive evaluation to see if you meet the criteria. For instance; the system requires the use of two canes so upper extremity strength is critical. Numerous other strengths and functions are assessed as well. As you might expect, height and weight are also determining factors to include leg lengths. Some other aspects taken into consideration are bone density, blood pressure while standing, skin integrity, risk of autonomic dysreflexia, and as previously mentioned, a companion that can actively participate in training and supervise while using the ReWalk at home. Unfortunately you cannot qualify if you have a diagnosis of a neurological injury other than SCI.

Now for the fun part, which is testing! This is the lengthy portion of the process. Rigorous testing is conducted because you are literally learning how to walk again.  You will need to achieve certain skills like getting in and out of the system, go to and from sit to stand, operate the communicator, and walk at least 10 meters with minimum assistance.  After more practice with the device and the certified therapist agree you are eligible, one may be loaned for home use under supervision for a minimum of 45 days.  The SCI Team will then collaborate for the purchase of the ReWalk system.

For more detailed information concerning the ReWalk system, contact your VA provider or Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) NSO.

 

Loan Amount

Maximum Guaranty

Special Provisons

Up to $45,000 50 percent of loan amount 25 percent on interest rate reduction refinancing loans
$45,000 – $56,250 $22,500 Same as above
$56,250 – $144,000 40 percent of the loan amount, with a maximum of $36,000 Same as above
$144,000 or more Up to an amount equal to 25 percent of the county loan limit Same as above

To qualify for a VA home loan, a veteran or the spouse of an active duty service member must certify that he or she intends to occupy the home. When refinancing a VA-guaranteed loan solely to reduce the interest rate, a veteran need only certify to prior occupancy. A loan can not be guaranteed by the VA without first being appraised by a VA-assigned fee appraiser. The requester pays for the appraisal upon completion and according to the fee schedule approved by the VA. The VA fee appraiser estimates the value of the property. This is not the same as a home inspection and it does not guarantee the house is free of defects. The VA only guarantees the loan and not the condition of the property.

For purchase home loans, payment in cash is required on all closing costs. The VA appraisal, credit report, loan processing fee, title search, title insurance, recording fees, transfer taxes, survey charges, inspection, hazard insurance premiums and prepaid taxes may not be included in the loan. These closing costs must be paid by the veteran, unless if you are refinancing a loan wherein most of theses costs can be included into the loan. If you are refinancing a loan all such costs may be included in the loan as long as the total loan does not exceed the reasonable value of the property.

An eligible borrower can also use a VA-guaranteed Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan to refinance an existing VA loan to lower the interest rate and payment. Typically, no credit underwriting is required for this type of loan. The loan may include the entire outstanding balance of the prior loan, the costs of energy-efficient improvements, as well as closing costs, including up to two discount points. Interest rate reduction loans may include closing costs, including a maximum of two discount points. If the lender charges discount points on the loan, the veteran may negotiate with the seller as to who will pay the points or if they will be split between buyer and seller. Points paid by the veteran may not be included in the loan (with the exception that up to two points may be included in interest rate reduction refinancing loans). The term of the loan may be for as long as 30 years and 32 days.

Please be aware that the VA does charge a funding fee that ranges from as low as .05 percent to as high as 2.4 percent depending on the type of loan you choose. The funding fee must be paid to the VA unless the veteran is exempt from such a fee. Exemptions include: those who are in receipt of VA disability compensation; or are rated by the VA as eligible to receive compensation as a result of pre-discharge disability examination; or are the unmarried surviving spouses of a veteran who died in service or as a result of a service-connected disability. The funding fee can be paid in cash or it can be included into the loan. The VA funding fee and up to $6,000 of energy-efficient improvements can also be included in the VA loan.

The Periods of Service required for entitlement to eligibility are as follows:

World War II: (1) active duty service after Sept.15, 1940, and prior to July 26, 1947; (2) discharged under other than dishonorable conditions; and (3) at least 90 days total service unless discharged early for a service-connected disability.
Post-World War II: (1) active duty service after July 25, 1947, and prior to June 27, 1950; (2) discharge under other than dishonorable conditions; and (3) 181 days continuous active duty service unless discharged early for a service-connected disability.
Korean War: (1) active duty after June 26, 1950, and prior to Feb. 1, 1955; (2) discharge under other than dishonorable conditions; and (3) at least 90 days total service, unless discharged early for a service-connected disability.
Post-Korean War: (1) active duty after Jan. 31, 1955, and prior to Aug. 5, 1964; (2) discharge under other than dishonorable conditions; (3) 181 days continuous service, unless discharged early for a service-connected disability.
Vietnam War: (1) active duty after Aug. 4, 1964, and prior to May 8, 1975; (2) discharge under other than dishonorable conditions; and (3) 90 days total service, unless discharged early for a service-connected disability. For veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam, the beginning date is Feb. 28, 1961.
Post-Vietnam: (1) active duty after May 7, 1975, and prior to Aug. 2, 1990; (2) active duty for 181 continuous days, all of which occurred after May 7, 1975; and (3) discharge under conditions other than dishonorable or early discharge for service-connected disability.
24-Month Rule: If service was between Sept. 8, 1980, (Oct. 16, 1981, for officers) and Aug. 1, 1990, veterans must generally complete 24 months of continuous active duty service or the full period (at least 181 days) for which they were called or ordered to active duty, and be discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Exceptions are allowed if the veteran completed at least 181 days of active duty service but was discharged earlier than 24 months for (1) hardship, (2) the convenience of the government, (3) reduction-in-force, (4) certain medical conditions, or (5) service-connected disability.
Gulf War: Veterans of the Gulf War era — Aug. 2, 1990, to a date to be determined — must generally complete 24 months of continuous active duty service or the full period (at least 90 days) for which they were called to active duty, and be discharged under other than dishonorable conditions. Exceptions are allowed if the veteran completed at least 90 days of active duty but was discharged earlier than 24 months for (1) hardship, (2) the convenience of the government, (3) reduction-in-force, (4) certain medical conditions, or (5) service-connected disability. Reservists and National Guard members are eligible if they were activated after Aug. 1, 1990, served at least 90 days, and received an honorable discharge.
Active Duty Personnel: Until the Gulf War era is ended, persons on active duty are eligible after serving 90 consecutive days.

In order to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility complete VA Form 26-1880 — “Request for a Certificate of Eligibility” — and mail it to: VA Eligibility Center, P.O. Box 20729, Winston-Salem, NC 27120. Once your Certificate of Eligibility is received from the VA you can apply for a VA loan.

The VA does provide assistance to veterans who are in default. If a veteran’s home loan becomes delinquent, the veteran should immediately contact their lender and explain what caused the missed payments, and discuss how they can be repaid. Depending on a veteran’s situation the lender may offer any of the following options to avoid foreclosure:

Repayment Plan: Make a regular payment each month plus part of the late payments.
Forbearance: Lender temporarily suspends payments to allow veteran time to accumulate funds to reinstate the loan or sell the property.
Loan Modification: Lender provides a fresh start by adding delinquency to the loan balance, and establishing a new payment schedule.
Compromise Sale/Short Sale: Lender approves a sale of the home for less than what is needed to pay off the loan. The remainder is written off and/or paid by VA guaranty.
Deed-in-Lieu-of Foreclosure: Lender accepts a deed to the property instead of going through a lengthy foreclosure process.

The VA does not have the funding to lend to veterans who are behind on their payments, but they can offer financial counseling to veterans with VA-guaranteed, conventional, or sub-prime loans. For veterans with VA-guaranteed loans, the VA may be able to intercede with the lender to help arrange an alternative option to foreclosure, but does not have that authority on other loans.

For additional information about the Home Loan Guaranty please contact your local PVA National Service Officer or the VA’s toll-free number for the Home Loan Guaranty program is 1-877-827-3702.

Michael J. Kruse is a United States Air Force and Persian Gulf War Veteran. He entered the military in July of 1990 and worked as a Tactical Aircraft Maintenance Specialist on the F-15 Fighter. He was stationed at Holloman AFB New Mexico, Langley AFB Virginia and King Abdul Aziz Air Base Dhahran Saudi Arabia. He completed his four year enlistment and was honorably discharged in from the Air Force in 1994. Mike has gone on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Medaille College, and Paralegal degree from New York Paralegal. As an accredited representative, Michael has spent more than 12 years assisting veterans and their dependants obtain education, health care, compensation, and or pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He is the Senior National Service Officer at the Paralyzed Veterans of America office in Buffalo New York.