Wounded Veterans Briefed on Available Services
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 10, 2004 Organizations that offer assistance to veterans aren't terribly helpful if veterans don't know they exist.
The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes: 1st Annual Road to Recovery Tribute and Conference for wounded veterans here aimed to fix that in an informational panel session Dec. 9. Eight representatives of organizations serving veterans each briefly described their specialties, which run the gamut from benefits counseling and help filing claims to assistance in finding jobs and making the workplace accommodations necessary to being successful in those jobs.
Some veterans said they were familiar with most of the benefits and services discussed, and others said they learned a lot. They had an opportunity to ask questions in person at booths set up at the back of the room after hearing the brief presentations.
William Boettcher, national commander of Amvets and a Marine Vietnam War veteran, said that the service officers of his and other veterans service organizations have one goal to help veterans. "Both the national and state service officers our organizations employ have but one mission in life, and that's to make sure you receive your earned benefits," Boettcher told the group.
Service officers are well-versed in veterans benefits and trained to provide information to veterans and their families on disability compensation, job training and employment and education and home loans, among other benefits, Boettcher said. They also can assist in filing claims.
"Regardless of which veterans service organization you check in with, the important thing is to make the contact," Boettcher said.
Once separated from the military, employment can be a difficult for a veteran. A disability can make it even harder, making a return to a previous career nearly impossible. Several avenues exist, however, to make it much easier.
The Defense Department is actively recruiting veterans, and has a section of a Web site specifically geared toward those with disabilities. "As a veteran of eight years, when I got out of the military, I was not aware of the vast array of resources and job opportunities to continue serving my country," said John Mosley, deputy director for program support in the Defense Civilian Personnel Management Service. His video presentation to the wounded veterans allayed any doubt about whether veterans can continue serving their country, citing more than 700 civilian positions available in DoD.
Another organization, Hire Vets First, links employers with veterans. The organization's goal as an entity of the President's Hire Veterans Committee is to convince employers that hiring veterans is good business. The coalition's own program "Hire Smart Bet on a Vet!" echoes this sentiment.
Organizations such as the Job Accommodation Network help employers accommodate employees with disabilities. DoD also has its Computer/Electronics Accommodations Program to help federal employees with disabilities do their jobs effectively.
Some organizations help with financial help. Army Emergency Relief, for example, is available to veterans, and like many service organizations, offers assistance from the time a soldier separates. Often, that assistance is extended to dependents, said retired Army Sgt. Maj. Dennis Scott, an AER assistant secretary.
He made it clear to conference attendees that his organization is not part of the Army. "That's a common mistake that many soldiers make," Scott said. The organization is a private, nonprofit corporation established by the in 1942.
"All of you know, of course, that you have eligibility as an active duty soldier," Scott told the group. "But I hope you also know that when you make the transition to retiree, you still have your eligibility. When you retire, as far as we are concerned, you are still a part of the Army family and you retain that eligibility."
He said AER can help soldiers and their families with financial crises. The help can come in the form of no-interest loans, grants or a combination. AER also can provide undergraduate-level education scholarships under certain circumstances, Scott said.
All organizations represented by the panelists, and several others, had information booths for veterans to visit. The Labor Department was conducting on-site job interviews throughout the conference. And the Department of Veterans Affairs representatives also were on hand to help explain benefits and procedures.
Army Spc. Chad Byrne said the information session was beneficial for him. "I got a lot out of it," he said. "(There are) a lot of things I didn't know were available. It's going to help tremendously." Byrne, an aspiring restaurant owner, said VA benefits, including the education benefit, will be especially helpful for him.
Byrne was injured twice in the war on terrorism. The first time was on Easter of 2003 by a rocket-propelled grenade. The most recent injury resulted in a compound leg fracture. He is awaiting medical discharge, but now has filled out the paperwork to get the ball rolling on his VA benefits, he said.