My friend Kevin told me about one of his pals that retired from the Army and bought a sailboat. He said that his pal spent all of his days aboard and cruised the Caribbean. I thought it was really nice for a guy who got all shot up in Vietnam to be able to live his life the way he wanted. I imagined the two of them in crystal clear blue waters off Panama on a boat. Kevin is a great guy who lost his eye in Vietnam. He is always conscious of issues concerning disabled Veterans.
I am 100% service disabled Veteran from the Desert Storm Era and I receive many benefits from my service. I was concerned about many things as I decided to live aboard a boat for a year and then permanently settle in a US Territory. There are so many little details that have to be taken care of before we leave. Many Veterans receive their medical care and medications from the Veteran’s Administration. We receive pensions, educational benefits, housing grants, mortgage loans and many other great benefits offered because of our service. Our dependents also receive many benefits that also have to be addressed when we move.
I read a thread on a forum recently where a service disabled veteran asked questions about how to set things up so that he could cruise the Caribbean and understand his benefits. I think that it is normal to be concerned. It sometimes takes a long time for Veterans to get benefits and they worry about losing them. Vets always want to follow the rules but the bureaucracy is hard to understand. I get a lot of information from other Vets. This is for them. I provided him my advice based on my own research. This is information that is directly relatable to service disabled US Veterans.
I found that you can record a “traveling” status with the VA that you currently are enrolled. This is important because if they schedule visits for you, C&P exams, etc. they always do it in the region that you are enrolled. Putting them on notice that you are traveling is good so that they don’t do that. It would be prudent that you do an exam once per year, somewhere there is a VA medical facility. The VA maintains a long list. Keep in mind that the VA maintains a strong presence on US territories. 100% SC gets you a lot of things. I would do the following if you haven’t yet:
1. Register on Ebenefits. You can see everything here and print many needed items while you are traveling. You can order meds, etc. You can update a mailing address from time to time as needed. You can view upcoming exam requests by the VA and reschedule as needed.
2. Get your military ID for you and your family on a base in the US before you leave. This will get you access to any base world wide. Take your 100% letter and birth certificates, marriage license, etc. and they will print them on the spot.
3. Enroll your spouse and kids in ChampVA. This is free insurance. They can be seen at many private doctors and VA clinics. Remember that if you need medical care at a private location while outside the US, The VA will pay or reimburse you for it- just like in the states.
4. You need not have a mailing address. You can get one if you settle down.
5. Disability pay is nontaxable abroad or in the states. It is specifically excluded on IRS forms and if that is your only income, no tax or reason to file a tax return if this is your only income. If you reside in a US territory, no tax or reason to file with the IRS for anything. Once you establish residency in a territory, you file a form with the IRS to advise them that you are no in a state and they understand that no further IRS forms will be required.
6. Direct deposit goes through as normal and you get your money.
7. You can settle anywhere that is not on the US list of countries where you can’t collect military or SS benefits. The list isn’t long and I doubt that you would settle in one of those countries anyway.
8. If you are unlikely to get much mail you may want to get a stateside address for a mail drop like someone stated. If you are in a port for sometime, you can pay for the mail drop to bundle up your mail and send it to you. You fill out forms to authorize this. A relative or close friend is a good idea bc they can open your mail and send you a message. There are some great mail services in Florida oriented toward cruisers. These services will pen and scan your mail so that you can view it through email.
9. US Coast Guard provides free transport on space A status for you and your family if you have an ID Card. This is a cool option and free. The VA may reimburse you for airfare to see your doctor depending on your location. The VA will reimburse you for doctor fees or hospital stays if you are in a foreign country.
Read up on the VA Foreign Medical Program (http://www.va.gov/hac/forbeneficiaries/fmp/fmp.asp)
And check out the offices in every single state and territory (http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp)
Also, if rated 100%, you can utilize ANY active duty facilities medical center, and in fact I’ve heard, if possible, the VA prefers this as they don’t have to repay a foreign hospital.
There are literally 10’s of thousands (if not more) rated veterans living as expats in damn near every country in the world, and still get all their benefits (even if they have to see a German doctor for a physical every 2 years or travel to a base).
Check out all the expat forums