Timothy Johnson served this country for 25 years in the Army. As a disabled Veteran he came to the a recent town hall to ask me and congressional aides in attendance about a piece of legislation in which he is interested. He spent several minutes talking with us after the town hall about why it was so important to him. Then he stepped into the claims clinic to speak with a claims expert about an appeal on his claim. As he was leaving the town hall, he asked about vocational rehabilitation and employment, saying he had heard of the program from other Veterans. So he spoke to our specialist and now has a follow-up appointment Sept. 16.
“They explained the appeals process to me,” he said to a member of my staff over the phone. “I walked out satisfied. I was happy with the answers and with the service. I am content.”
Mr. Johnson is just one of more than 70 Veterans who went through the claims clinic at this town hall that was held for Veterans, their families and survivors. Many Veterans have had challenges with VA. I was concerned that when we held our town hall, Veterans would air their private medical information publicly since VA compensation, insurance, pension and vocational rehabilitation claims are based on medical disabilities.
Still, I wanted to afford Veterans the chance to share the concerns they have on their claims and not discourage an open and honest conversation with the very public all VA employees serve. I asked my employees if they would they would support our town halls and work with Veterans to answer their claims questions during a claims clinic. The response was overwhelming. The majority of our claims processors don’t work with Veterans every day, so they were excited to work directly with Veterans.
More than 50 percent of employees at the Veterans Benefits Administration are Veterans themselves. At our regional offices nearly 40 percent of employees are Veterans; many more like me are closely related to Veterans.
Anthony Hill, a Marine Corps Veteran, left the town hall with my business card. He was medically separated from the Department of Defense several years ago, and for some reason, we have been unable to obtain records of the medical disability from the Department of Defense. Mr. Hill also visited the claim clinic for a compensation claim.
“The people there are Veterans and they have been on the same road and are compassionate and that came into play,” he said.
When asked if they would recommend the experience to other Veterans, both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hill were quick to reply.
“Go to the town hall and clinic,” said Mr. Johnson. “This is an opportunity. You can file a claim. That room should have packed — standing room only. If you weren’t there, don’t complain. If you care, then you should be there.”
“Absolutely, without a doubt,” Mr. Hill said. “If a Vet does not show up and does not participate, how is anything going to get accomplished? Sometime you have to go to the top for things to take place. I’m extremely grateful for the town hall the other night. It was a blessing and a long time coming.”
It certainly was. I hope to conduct more town halls in the future where you can attend and sit down with a claims expert who can answer questions on your specific claim. If you are interested in seeing what benefits you are eligible for, come talk with us.
For a list of upcoming regional benefit office town halls, visit the VA website by going to http://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/events.asp