Jersey Magazine with Jim Monaghan

Jersey Magazine with Jim Monaghan

Jersey Magazine with Jim Monaghan

May is Military Appreciation Month and this morning we continue our focus on NJ veterans and the benefits available to them.

Our guest this morning is Dr. Paul Lawrence, the former Under Secretary for Benefits in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Dr. Lawrence’s recent book, Veterans Benefits for You: Get What You Deserve, offers an up-to-date, comprehensive, and accessible guide to the array of benefits and services that veterans of the US Armed Services are entitled to.

The book delves into a wide range of topics, including basic health care eligibility and benefits, disability and rehabilitation services, counseling and mental health care, employment assistance, pensions, loans, insurance, memorial services, military records, GI Bill benefits, scholarships, grants, and much more.

Dr. Lawrence spoke with Jim Monaghan on this important issue for our veterans.


Dr. Paul Lawrence – Military Background

DR LAWRENCE – I came from military family. My father was a career army officer and we had two boys. My brother and I both served in the army.

I served army through ROTC in college and was just in for three years. I was a finance officer at the Army’s Bankers.

Dr. Lawrence – Administrative Background

DL – In the Trump administration, I served as the Undersecretary for Benefits. So as part of the VA, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

So I actually ran all these programs and I got an awful lot of questions from veterans.

“I don’t understand these benefits.” “What are they?” “Can you explain to me?” “How come it’s so hard?”

So when I got out, I said there must be a book available for this and I found out there really wasn’t. So I wrote a book that would make it easy to read, easy to understand, had all the benefits there.

Don’t forget, these aren’t entitlements. These are things anyone can earn by serving honorably. So these are things the American public has provided for veterans. So they really should be able to access them.

JIM MONAGHAN – The United States administers about $120 billion in veterans benefits each year. How much, if any, of that goes unused?

DL – Well, it’s not so much unused, you have to come and fill out an application. So by definition, this is used, but you always wonder of all the veterans out there, how many more could be accessing their benefits.

So that $120 billion goes to about 6 million veterans.

There’s 17 million veterans right now in the United States. Not all of them would be eligible for some of these benefits, but many would.

The GI Bill

JM – The (benefit) that I was most familiar with was the GI Bill. That’s how my dad went to college following World War II. I knew about the college aspect of it, but I never knew about a home loan aspect to the GI Bill, Dr. Lawrence.

DL – The original law called the Service Man’s Re-Adjustment Act of 1944, which your father used had a couple of components.

One is the education benefit, because as you know, virtually nobody in our country had gone to college at this time.

So this was a game changer in terms of the knowledge and our skills in our country.

But the other thing it had is the ability for veterans to purchase a home with no money down. It’s called the Home Loan Guarantee.

This is a huge game changer because if you’re not a veteran, you got to spend years saving for a down payment, but as a veteran now, you don’t have to save for a down payment.

You don’t have to pay for private mortgage insurance and you generally get a haircut on the interest rate. You pay a little bit lower interest rate.

So again, the equity in your home, great home, security, safety, good community, kids in good schools, but also the equity can be used in many veterans due to start a business.

And so it really has a lot of positive features.

JM – My dad was the first member of his family to go to college. In fact, my grandfather, I think he only completed eighth grade. He didn’t even go to high school. And he himself had been a World War I veteran.

So that was huge in my family.

DL – Well, to be accurate, about 10% of our country had gone to college in 1940. So that essentially means we fought World War II with a functionally illiterate country.

Many had gone to high school, not all have been graduated from high school.

Coming out of the war now, so many more veterans go to college and you say it’s game changer for their families and for the future generations.

So this is a powerful benefit.

The Confusion Surrounding Veterans Benefits

JM – There were two things that I have come in contact with recently and that was applying for Medicare and replying, applying for Social Security.

And we had someone on a few weeks ago here on Jersey Magazine talking about Medicare. And I asked her at the time, why was it so complicated?

I’ve never seen anything quite like Medicare and the complications there and Social Security.

Why do you think that applying for veterans benefits is so complicated, Dr. Lawrence?

DL – I like to think it’s a little less complicated than what you experienced because most of them are pretty straightforward.

But of course, there’s rules and regulations and lawsuits and so on.

If a veteran needs help applying for benefits, they can get assistance at no cost from what’s called a Veteran Service Officer.

These are people who trained in the VA processes and you can get these from your state Department of Veterans Affairs like the New Jersey Department of Veterans Affairs.

If you contact them, you can get a service officer again at no cost.

You can also get them from places like Wounded Warrior Project, American Legion, DAV, VFW. So there are folks who can help you through this, it’s an unusual and not known process because nobody does it really more than once whereas these service officers do this all the time.

Going Beyond Just “Feel Good” Veterans Benefits

JM – One of the things I think it’s important to point out about here is these benefits that you’re talking about in your book, they go far beyond the feel good benefits that
are offered.

And those are necessary, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a huge difference in a feel good discount, if you will, versus something that’s really going to help a veteran.

DL – That’s exactly right. So the education, the home loan, we haven’t talked about what’s known as disability compensation.

If you’re injured or hurt while you’re in service, there’s payments to deal with, you know, foregone wages as well as expenses you need to do that.

So for example, you went off to the military and say, hey, when I get back, I’m going to be a teacher, I’m going to stand for a long period of time.

Maybe you’re hurt, you’re back and now you can’t stand for a long period of time. You can get a monthly payment, a tax free monthly payment to deal with some of those issues.

And finally, to build on all that, a lot of these benefits, you know, have a family aspect.

Vietnam Veterans

JM – While I was too young to serve in Vietnam, that is the age group closest to me. And back in the 1990s, I did some volunteer work for some Vietnam veterans organizations in Manhattan.

I asked one of the administrators once why more Vietnam veterans did not use the services available to them from the Veterans Administration, the VA hospitals and what have you.

He said to me that, and this was, I’m paraphrasing here, that many of the veterans that he was dealing with felt that the VA was just another extension of the government that had sent them over to Vietnam.

How much of that has changed, do you think, Dr. Lawrence, that perception?

DL – I hope, I hope a whole lot because it was just sinful what the Vietnam veterans experienced, right? In terms of, you know, getting off the boat and people spinning on their uniform and then not wanting to deal with the VA because, you know, service wasn’t that good at that period of time.

Future generations, coming out of Vietnam, always talk about, we’ve got to make sure this never happens again.

So I’d encourage folks to go back and look.

And also, I know they were greatly upset about the whole Agent Orange situation. It took a while for people to really understand what that was and get them benefits.

Even that just extended to as recently as 2020. So there’s a lot of benefits for folks who could have been affected by Agent Orange as well as their family.

So if you have a loved one who served in Vietnam and passed by some cancer or something you don’t understand, it could have well, very well been Agent Orange.

The family members would be entitled for benefits too.

So again, come back and check and see if there isn’t something there for you.

NJ Veterans Overlooked Benefits

JM – From your experience, what is one of the most overlooked benefits by veterans that they just don’t even realize is out there?

DL – It’s something called a pension. So let me explain.

It sounds like retirement, but it’s really not. It’s a means tested benefit that has to do with veterans who generally I call fall on hard times.

So this often helps people get out of homelessness, right?

They’ll test your, they’ll ask about your assets. And if your assets are less than $150,000, you can get a small monthly payment for VA to sort of deal with life.

$150,000 sounds like a lot, but they don’t count your home, your car and a bunch of other things.

So it’s really, you know, the old veteran in your neighborhood, maybe the uncle and your family, you wonder how are they going to continue on?

There’s a pension. It’s called a veteran’s pension that might be, might be relevant for them.

JM – Dr. Lawrence, for a WDHA and WMTR listeners who want to learn more, where’s the best place for them to go?

DL – I’m on LinkedIn as my name, Paul Lawrence. That’s probably the best place.

  • Rebecca Kinney - Making Medicare Less Complicated

    As we get older, there are two things that we find ourselves navigating through – Social Security and Medicare.

    Both of them are pretty confusing, especially Medicare. Rebecca Kinney, the director of the Office of Healthcare Information and Counseling at the Administration for Community Living offers some helpful information.

    Why Medicare is so hard to navigate

    It’s health insurance. And health insurance is really complicated no matter how you’re getting access to that insurance, whether you’re paying for it yourself, getting it through an employer plan, or if you’re someone who’s eligible for Medicare and getting your insurance through Medicare.

    It’s evolved a lot since it was originally established in 1965. It’s important for folks to take time and really sort through what is happening with their Medicare so they can make good, educated decisions on their coverage.

    There are private insurance companies that contract with Medicare to provide coverage. So we’ve got lots of Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Part C, available across the country. And also the Medicare prescription drug coverage is also offered through private insurance companies.

    So all of these companies are sending out information on their plans and what’s available and it can be really overwhelming for folks to understand what they’re looking at, what all this means, and how to make a decision.

    That’s where one of the programs that I oversee comes into play.

    It’s known as the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, also known as the SHIP. And it is a federally funded program that is available free because it is federally funded and it is also unbiased.

    We are not associated with any insurance companies to really provide one-on-one assistance to Medicare and release to sort through all of those different things that they get in the mail and the questions that they might have on Medicare.

    We help them navigate all of that, really understand what choices they have to make and what their options are and will help them get enrolled as well once they make a decision on a particular plan or set of plan coverage.

    We can help them get enrolled in those decisions.

    Medicare obstacles

    The biggest thing is really that confusion and complication that we’ve been talking about. Everyone who is on Medicare is overwhelmed by that in particular.

    Another big thing that we see is, you know, a lot of folks on Medicare, they’re retired, they’re living on a fixed income and they may have really limited income and assets available to help them pay for their health coverage but also their other needs, housing, food, right?

    It can be hard to really figure out how can you pay, how can I afford to pay for all of these different things.

    In our program, we help folks, we screen them for programs that are available to help them pay for their Medicare in particular, those premiums and copays.

    If they look like they might be eligible, we’ll help them get enrolled as well.

    So we’ll go through the process of helping them gather all the documents and getting the information onto the applications needed to access those benefits to help them pay for their Medicare benefits.

    We also can connect them to other programs that might help them pay for those other things like food and housing. If they might be eligible to try to ensure that people are getting the access to all the benefits that they might be eligible for to help them afford their daily needs.

    Recent changes to Medicare

    We have a real expansion of the different private health insurance plans that are available
    to help cover Medicare, those Medicare advantage and Part D plans.

    The number of plans available has really grown, which is an important element for folks to navigate through. But more recently, there have been a few changes that have expanded Medicare coverage and reduced costs for Medicare beneficiaries, no matter their income.

    Some examples of that include the change that happened in 2023 to reduce copay for insulin to $35, whether someone takes insulin through a pump or if they self-administer that insulin, their copay now is only $35 a month per insulin product, which in some cases has made a huge difference for folks.

    Insulin has been very expensive and that reduction, it doesn’t matter what plan you’re enrolled in, your insulin copay should be no more than $35 a month for each product.

    Another change is ensuring that vaccines are available free of charge to Medicare beneficiaries.

    Things like the shingles vaccine and RSV vaccine are now available to Medicare beneficiaries free of charge, trying to ensure that folks get access to those preventative benefits to try to avoid those illnesses that can have extreme negative consequences for folks if they get them.

    There’s also been an expansion for one of the programs that helped pay for Medicare.

    Again, I was talking about this earlier, if somebody has limited income and assets and are really struggling to pay for their prescription drug costs, starting January 4th of this year, the extra help program was expanded.

    Some more people are eligible for that program to help reduce the premium for part D possibly down to zero, depending on the options that are available and really reduce the copays at the pharmacy as well.

    It really makes a big difference for folks who are eligible for those things.

    Protecting yourself from Medicare fraud

    Medicare unfortunately is a pretty big target for fraud schemes and we see a lot of things related to again, tele-health has been because the coverage for that is expanded.

    We see durable medical equipment that things like wheelchairs, braces, insulin products and supplies.

    They are a huge target for fraud as well and so fraudsters also use COVID as a way to try to scam people into giving them their personal information and then they would go and build Medicare for tens of thousands of dollars of things that were never provided and never received and really just pocketing that money.

    It’s a real big problem and so what we try to encourage folks to do is one, be careful. Don’t give out your personal information that includes your Medicare number to anyone you don’t know. Only provide that to your healthcare providers.

    Second thing, pay attention to your explanation of benefits or your Medicare summary notices that come in and show what services have been billed on your behalf and make sure those are things you actually received.

    It’s a good idea to kind of keep track of all of your appointments and who you saw, which dates those types of things. Kind of use a healthcare tracker to kind of keep track of that and compare that to your explanation of benefits.

    If you see something that looks funny or you don’t understand or it seems a little fishy, you can contact our program too and we will help you take a look at that and we work very closely with the Office Inspector General and Medicare.

    When things look like they might have been fraud, we get them into the investigators hands as quickly as possible.

    For WDHA and WMTR listeners here in New Jersey who want more information about the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, please go to

  • Rock N Ruff

    WDHA’s Rock N’ Ruff is back this week with a great pup! Sweet Kona- A 2-3 year-old female pup that is a long-term resident of The Randolph Regional Animal Shelter – Randolph Regional Animal Shelter Website


    Kona is a 2-3 year old female terrier mix, who is the life of the party! The Randolph Regional Animal Shelter took in Kona after being found as a stray and ending up in another shelter and is a fun, energetic girl. In fact, Kona has been overlooked at the shelter because she is so happy and exuberant, her energy may scare some people off- why? It shouldn’t! Kona is happy, friendly, loves riding in the car, playing with her ball and toys, swimming, and running, basically Kona likes doing everything!  She would really like to do everything in her forever home, with her very own family.

     Rock N' Ruff with Kona

    Kona Loves Her Ball

    Kona also enjoys the company of other dogs and the shelter feels she would be fine with Cats. Poor Kona, is coming up on being in the shelter for a year. Making her a long-term shelter resident, so we are hoping her Rock N’ Ruff exposure will get her noticed and she will have some visitors! The Randolph Regional Animal Shelter also has a fantastic “Foster To Adopt” program, which helps dogs and humans find their perfect match. I actually feature them in my- ‘5 Important Tips When Adopting A New Pet” story- 5 Important Tips Before Adopting A New Pet.



    Kona is super active!



    Kona is such a pretty pup too

    More Rock N’ Ruff

    Check out the WDHA Rock N’ Ruff Page for all of our adoptable- WDHA’s Rock N’ Ruff

    My TC Rock N’ Ruff Roundtable Page- TC’s Rock N’ Ruff Roundtable

    And a Fun Fiesta Event To Support Local Adoptions- Furry Friends Fiesta

    And of course a rocking puppy playlist! A Doggie Dozen Rock Tunes 

    Opt To Adopt and here’s to helping Kona find her forever family!

  • Coach Sheets' Ride In

    Jeremy Sheetinger is the head baseball coach at Georgia Gwinnett College where he led the Grizz Gang to the 2021 NAIA National Championship.

    These quick hits may, on the surface, be geared toward his fellow baseball coaches, but his motivational message can easily be applied to the classroom, workplace, and your personal relationships.

    This morning, Coach Sheets talks about the 20/40/60 rules. What stage are you at in your life?

  • Local Look

    Looking for something fun to do in the area? Chris Swendeman has you covered with this week’s Local Look.

    There are always so many fun events happening in our local communities.  Check out what’s in store for this week in New Jersey.

    • The weather is getting nicer so it’s time to head out and enjoy a great New Jersey Street Fair.  The 2024 Cranford Street Fair and Craft Show takes place today from 11 AM to 5 PM.  There will be artists, crafters, live music, vendors, and some great food.  The event is being held in downtown Cranford on South Avenue.
    • Hungry? Well, you can bring that appetite to the Paramus Food Truck Festival.  There will be an array of food trucks to choose from, music, vendors, mini golf, and so much more.  Admission is just $5. The festival will be located in the parking lot at Paramus Park today.
    • And you can see some great young artists in Passaic County today for the Arts in the Park Festival in Hawthorne. The festival is a celebration and showcase of local talent and this year’s event will be even more memorable. There will be art vendors, live music, performances, activities, food trucks, and more all coming you away today from 11 AM to 5 PM at Goffle Brook Park in Hawthorne.

    And that’s your Local Look for this week on The Jersey Magazine.  If you’d like your event to be featured on The Local Look, you can email us at [email protected].  See you next week on 105.5 WDHA.

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