Whether answering questions at www.legion.org, writing magazine features or penning this monthly column, our goal has always been to provide clear, concise and accurate financial guidance. What we didn’t bargain for when we embarked on this journey was that we’d learn a lot along the way, too. For example, despite the fact we have both served, we had no idea that service officers were out there, or that The American Legion was a key player in what they do.
When J.J.’s father was stricken with, and later passed away from, mesothelioma, both J.J. and his father’s widow were helped by a service officer, and it was a big deal. At the time, J.J. just didn’t know from where that huge helping hand had come. While the existence of these folks may be old news to you, it was a pleasant surprise for J.J. and his family.
As financial planners, we’ve certainly been confronted with situations where veterans, widows or children have been overwhelmed by bureaucracy as they’ve tried to tap into benefits earned through service and sacrifice. Often, the difficult path created by massive paperwork requirements, resubmissions and a system that at times appears overwhelming is further complicated by the tough circumstances in which veterans and their families attempt to navigate their way through the quagmire. To the rescue comes the service officer.
So how can one of these folks help you, a veteran, or a veteran’s family you know? First, they are experts on the laws, rules and regulations regarding veterans benefits. The service officer knows the answers to questions you may not know to ask. They complete a comprehensive training course, and have the knowledge that comes from day-to-day immersion in the veterans-benefits system.
Where are they? Everywhere. Although the Legion’s department service officers (DSOs) are located at VA regional offices and can be contacted directly through the Legion, the network of service officers goes well beyond DSOs.
Many counties have veterans service officers, and they are employed by state governments.
The Legion plays a large role in the service officer network across the country by providing important training, especially in the form of its annual DSO schools. So no matter what your question concerns – hospitalization, compensation, pension or education benefits – the service officer is there to help.
Of course, knowing that a benefit exists is the easy part. Traversing the paperwork of the claims process and procedures can challenge even the most patient of people. Here again, the service officer plays a key role by identifying and completing the appropriate forms and paperwork. The service officer who worked with J.J.’s family actually completed the forms for them.
If you or someone you know could benefit from this type of help, take heart in knowing that it’s close at hand. As a starting point, check out the Legion’s DSO Locator at www.legion.org/education/serviceofficers. If a DSO’s location is not convenient for you, the Legion can help you find assistance closer to home.
June Lantz Walbert and J.J. Montanaro are certified financial planners for USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for them online.
This material is for informational purposes. Consider your own financial circumstances carefully before making a decision and consult with your tax, legal or estate planning professional.USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its insurance, banking, investment and other companies. Banks Member FDIC. Investments provided by USAA Investment Management Company and USAA Financial Advisors Inc., both registered broker dealers. USAA Financial Planning Services® refers to financial planning services and financial advice provided by USAA Financial Planning Services Insurance Agency, Inc. (known as USAA Financial Insurance Agency in California), a registered investment adviser and insurance agency and its wholly owned subsidiary, USAA Financial Advisors, Inc., a registered broker dealer. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and Certified Financial Planner TM in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.