01 April 2011

Getting VA Benefits - the battle begins!

 VA benefits is often a years-long process, beginning with submission of your paperwork, their denial, your appeal, their award of a small percentage of disability, your appeal of that finding, their increasing your disability percentage...and it goes on.

It takes patience. It takes a motivated Veterans Service Officer (VSO). These individuals are employees of the various Congressionally-chartered veterans organizations like the VFW, DAV, Jewish War Veterans, Blind Veterans of America. Paralyzed Veterans of America and others. Most states also have certified Veterans Service Officers under their State Department of Veterans Affairs, and some states also have county-level VSOs.

VSO's are your pit bulldog. Their mission is to obtain all the state and federal veterans' benefits you're eligible for. No charge to you and it doesn't matter whether you're a member of that or any other veterans organization...they all welcome the opportunity of representing you!

They'll need your DD214, as much other documentation as you may have, and will ask you to sign a power of attorney so they can obtain all your records from the military and the VA, and have the authority to represent you. They aren't attorneys, but they are trained and certified in the complex world of the Department of Veterans Affairs rules and regulations.

Anybody can prepare and submit their own claim. Those folks typically either get denied or, as happened to me, get awarded an insignificant 10% disability rating. It took the dedicated work of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the group I selected to represent me, to get my rating up to the maximum (and even scholarships for my kids!). I cannot over-stress the importance, and the value, and the reassurance, of being represented by somebody who really knows what do do. Often, the VSOs work in the same facility as the VA rating officers, see each other at lunch, walk down the hall to take a break together...and get your case resolved! Remember...this is not your AFSC but it is their career specialty...these guys are good!

Look them up in the phone book, or call the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center and ask for the Veterans Service Organization. They are all easily Googled, and each of their sites has a link to get started with a benefits claim.

But slow down a moment...we're discussing post-Vietnam Agent Orange exposure here. That will be a complex presentation, and will take documents like we've been providing here. At least get the application in, get your Agent Orange Registry exam, and the process has started. Benefits, if eventually awarded, are given from the date your original application is filed.

Final note for now...I've written the president of the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs for advice on our problems.

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