En español | Veterans and their families, after sacrificing so much for their country, may fail to take full advantage of benefits they earned for their service thanks to a maze of veterans programs that even experts say can be daunting.
“It is a serious problem,’’ says Bart Stichman, executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), a nonprofit organization that helps veterans and their families pursue disability-connected benefits they are due. “The VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] doesn’t do a great deal of outreach. They have an extensive website, but it’s complex. People don’t realize what they’re entitled to.”
However, there are multiple places for veterans and their survivors to turn for free help in pursuing benefits they should receive.
Among them are dozens of organizations recognized by the VA, including the American Legion, Amvets, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A., Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW), and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA).
The VA publishes a list of veterans service organizations (VSOs) it recognizes for preparing, presenting, and prosecuting claims.
Mike Figlioli, deputy director of National Veterans Service at VFW, says veterans and their families should not despair if they feel overwhelmed by the complicated process of filing for VA benefits.
“People can get frustrated and give up the fight. We encourage them to stay the course,’’ he says. “We’re here to demystify and to get them on the right path.”
State veterans offices also have staff to assist vets and their families in filing claims and determining which state benefits are available.
Many states offer special benefits for veterans, such as property tax breaks, educational assistance and free or discounted licenses. The VA website also links to state VA offices.
Also online, vets and family members can find VA-accredited attorneys, claims agents, and VSO representatives to help them pursue benefits to which they are entitled.
Veterans and survivors who believe they are not getting disability benefits they deserve — even after they file claims — can get free legal representation from the NVLSP. The organization says it has been involved in lawsuits that have forced the VA and military services to pay more than $5.2 billion in disability, death and medical benefits to hundreds of thousands of veterans and their survivors since 1980.
The group has developed an app, VA Benefit Finder, available on its website and through the AppStore and Google Play, that helps veterans determine whether to file a claim for disability benefits or a nondisability pension.
For a list of benefits available to veterans, the VA publishes a guide, Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors, as well as information on how to apply for them.
Surviving spouses, children and parents of veterans looking to learn more about programs they might be eligible for can turn to the VA website for more information.
Another way to get help is by contacting one of VA’s regional benefit offices.
Call the VA at 800-827-1000.