Normally, when a veteran has a service-related disability issue and needs to get information or assistance from the VA, they contact their local VA representative or schedules a visit to the nearest VA medical center.
Outside of the continental United States the situation is different – there's no VA hospitals and very few VA representatives. Most America Legion members in Europe have learned to depend on their post service officers or the department service officer (DSO) for France to answer their questions and provide assistance with filing claims to the VA.
An issue was, until recently, that most post service officers in the Department of France were not properly trained, nor had there been an accredited DSO in the past 22 years for Europe.
That situation is changing. Laura Buckner, DSO for France, and her assistant Frank Phillips, conducted training for 14 Legionnaires at American Legion Post GR1982 in Katterbach Kaserne, Germany, on March 16. Phillips is a recent accredited VA service officer.
U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach Commander Col. Benjamin C. Jones welcomed everyone and expressed his appreciation for what The American Legion is doing to support veterans, both as a national organization and also within the Ansbach community. Attendees represented Legion post members from across Europe, from France, England, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg, as well as from different Legion posts throughout Germany.
VA Representative Jill Downs from Grafenwoehr, Germany, assisted with the training. Downs is an overseas military service coordinator with the VA. Mark Kistner, also an accredited DSO with the VFW, provided assistance with the training as well.
The training addressed the procedures of the claims interview process and subsequent filing procedures, as well as rules and regulations on the privacy act and the health information privacy act. A lot of the standard forms required to file a VA claim were covered in detail. The applicable rules and regulations, as well as references to current procedures were provided to each of the candidates on a memory stick. Special emphasis was given to candidates to avoid making promises on any potential results. “Use your references” was the mantra of the day. Attendees were also reminded that “as a post service officer, you are there to assist all veterans within the community; not just Legion comrades.”
The eight-hour training was very intense, providing post service officers with an initial level of training, enabling them to better assist local veterans, as well as helping them with properly filing a VA claim. Two additional levels of training are scheduled to be completed within the next several months.
Post service officers seemed very impressed with the training conducted.
Department of France Commander James Dennis said, “This training was excellent and long overdue. There was a lot of information covered, most of it was new to post service officers. Now, this information needs to be shared with other posts. Veterans need to be informed and encouraged to consider filing a claim if they have service-related conditions.”
“The work of the service officer is the core business of The American Legion. This training is an essential gateway to doing that while supporting the needs of our fellow veterans,” said John Shanahan, immediate past Department of France commander and current commander of Ireland Post IR01.
Joseph Schram, commander of Belgium Post BE01, said, “This was the best training done by Department of France, ever!”
The training will continue. Coordination has already began for the next stage of training, as well as initial training for other posts who could not send participants. It appears that the “training slump” for post service officers in the Department of France is definitely over and that our veterans will profit from it.