Veterans service office helps explain benefits
By Alex Keenan
Special to the Times
A perpetual hot topic within the military retiree community is the process for filing disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Retirees may be entitled to disability compensation from their military service, the same as any other veteran. Disability compensation is a monetary benefit paid to veterans disabled by injury or disease that is incurred or aggravated during active military service.
Veterans with low incomes who are permanently and totally disabled also may be eligible for monetary support through VAĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s pension program. About 2.8 million veterans receive disability compensation or pensions from VA.
The laws governing veteransĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ benefits are complicated and change fairly frequently.
The best advice I can give to anyone trying to figure out what veteransĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ benefits they may be entitled to is this: DonĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t try to go it alone.
When filing a claim, your first step should be to contact the veterans service officer at your nearest VA office or clinic, or within the local community.
The recent focus on improving benefits for veterans has led to new processes that can be confusing. Service officers function as advocates for you and your family in any appeals you make.
The officers will also assist you and your family in filing claims for VA disability compensation, rehabilitation and education programs, pension and death benefits, employment and training programs, Social Security disability benefits and several other programs.
Through your VSO network, you can be assured that your enrollment and claims forms are correctly filled out and that your claims are processed right the first time.
Each state and most counties have veterans service officers who can help you with benefits claims and questions. A number of federally chartered veteransĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ service organizations also are approved by the secretary of veterans affairs to help in such instances, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion.
VSOs may prepare, present and prosecute VA claims on your behalf, at no cost to you. ItĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s their job and they have the expertise to assist.
Many cities also have Vet Centers where disability claims may be filed. If youĂ˘â‚¬â„˘re not familiar with these centers, you should become familiar with them. Not only do they help with claims, they also provide psychological counseling for war-related trauma, community outreach, case management and referral activities, and supportive social services to veterans and family members.
There are now 206 Vet Centers in operation around the country. Since the first center opened in 1979, about 1.7 million veterans have received assistance through these facilities.
If you have a health problem related to military service, you should file a claim for it even if your condition is not necessarily compensable today.
VA claims are usually awarded back to the date of filing, so itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s important to file as soon as possible. If you are planning to retire from the military soon, itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s a good idea to make sure your medical records are up-to-date Ă˘â‚¬â€ť with all proper paperwork intact Ă˘â‚¬â€ť to ensure that any incurred injury or illness is documented.
You can file a claim online at www.vba.va.gov. That Web site also offers information about claims for specific conditions for which you may be filing. Keep in mind that your DD214 discharge papers are the key to unlocking your veteransĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ benefits. Without your DD214, youĂ˘â‚¬â„˘re virtually shut out.
More information about VSOs in your area is available from the nearest VA medical center. You can also check the directory of veteransĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ service organizations on VAĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Web site at http://www1.va.gov/vso/.
Retired Coast Guard Command Master Chief Alex Keenan is a 28-year veteran. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.