Department of France conducts PSO training
Department of France Vice Commander Dennis Owens, VA representative Joshua Gregory and DSO Frank Phillips. (Photo via Estus Smith)

Department of France conducts PSO training

The American Legion Department of France continued its training of post service officers (PSOs) with two days of training in Ansbach-Katterbach, Germany, on 1-2 December 2018. This training was a follow-up to the one-day initial training conducted in March 2018. The training was conducted to get PSOs from the various posts throughout Germany up to date on the latest disability claims information and requirements from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The training took place next door to the newly established offices of the department service officer (DSO). The new office is located in the Welcome Center, Building 5818, room 317, 318 and 319, in the USAG Ansbach Katterbach Kaserne. This was a great way to introduce the PSOs to the new DSO facilities.

The primary purpose of the training was to offer deeper training to those post service officers and advance their knowledge, so they can better assist our veterans. All PSOs within the department who had completed the first course in March were offered the training.

DSO Frank Phillips and guest speaker/VA representative Joshua Gregory conducted the training. Joshua is a rating specialist with VA but is currently working as a VA outreach officer in Germany for a six-month period.

A total of five PSOs from various areas of Germany attended this training.

The VA Outreach Program is a relatively new program offering veterans in Europe direct access to VA personnel who can more effectively assist them with questions about disability claims. Veterans in the United States have much more access to VA programs, as well as direct access to personnel who can answer their questions.

Gregory started the training on Saturday with discussion about the Death and Indemnity Claim (DIC). He also discussed the differences between the DIC and the VA Survivor Benefit or Death Pension. He then went into an extended discussion of some best practices, or as he called it, “Do’s and Don’ts from a Rater’s Point of View.”

The next subject was the various ways to submit a claim, including the pros and cons of submitting via U.S. Mail or fax as opposed to the online submission. It was explained that any of these methods can be used, but the online submission is usually timelier. Additionally, with the online submission there is no worry about mail possibly not getting to its destination, or fax machines on either end jamming during transmission.

Phillips’ discussions started with several forms. Each of these forms was discussed in detail, including which areas the PSOs should watch for problems of omissions or conflicting information. Either of these issues might cause delays in completing the adjudication of a claim by VA.

He also explained several systems available to the PSO/DSO to review veterans’ files and to help track the progress of a submitted claim. The individual veteran can use eBenefits, but the DSO can also access the VA Stakeholders Enterprise Portal (SEP), the Regional Office Cloud database system in Pittsburgh (VetraSpec) and the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) in order to upload files and track progress of submitted claims.

The training entailed how to take care of the veteran from the very first meeting with the PSO up to their current status. Topics that were also covered were presumptive disabilities (Agent Orange!), education, and almost all the entitlements a veteran is entitled to.

The Foreign Medical Program portion of the training was taught in depth. This program is not widely known to veterans and is a tremendous advantage to veterans living overseas.

The final examination was a combination of live exercises (assisting a veteran from Day 1 to present, including their enrollment in the Foreign Medical Program) and verbal communication skills in answering the examination questions.

Phillips discussed the importance of being a post service officer. He emphasized the importance of the service officer’s role in the community and post. The PSO is a valuable asset to the post and is a great instrument for membership enrollments.

The training was very well received by the PSOs. Harvey Briggs, PSO from Gelsenkirchen, GE, expressed his feelings with the comment. “This is good training! There is so much positive energy in this group. You can feel it!”

Phillips is already feeling the effects of the better training of PSOs – his workload is increasing. Since the word has gotten out that knowledgeable PSOs are locally available to assist veterans with claims, there has been a substantial increase in claim submissions.

As DSO, he reviews each claim submission sent by PSOs before they go to VA. The “second set of eyes” on the forms minimizes minor errors that could delay adjudication.

“Previously it was primarily retired soldiers and older veterans who submitted claims. Now, we are getting an increase in active-duty reserve soldiers. Especially those nearing retirement are talking with us and starting to get their information together for a claim,” Phillips expressed.

“The biggest selling point for us is that claims are being adjudicated and that veterans and soldiers are getting disability payments in a timely manner,” he stated. He explained that such success stories move through the retired soldier and active-duty community very fast. This, of course, brings in additional “customers” with their questions and claims.

He was also quick to mention that the services are available to all veterans who request assistance. He reminded all PSOs of this fact.

“You can tell them that you are an American Legion PSO, but they are not required to be a Legion member to get your help,” stated Phillips. “Of course, if they express a desire to join, you can certainly assist them with that procedure.”

Department Vice Commander Dennis Owens attended the training and was impressed. “With this advanced training, I can apply for my VA disabilities the smart way, and we can actually do what The American Legion is best at - veterans helping veterans. I am looking forward to using this new information.”

Harvey Briggs also felt good about the training. “This is amazing and it inspired the he-- out of me! I left feeling like I wanted to pull in every vet I see and get them compensation. I truly enjoyed the classes.”

The training was completed Sunday afternoon. It appeared that everyone had learned much about the claims process, and how they could better assist veterans with this process. All who attended returned to their home posts with an expanded knowledge base, and with an increased desire to assist fellow veterans.

This advanced level of training will be offered again, hopefully in the spring of 2019.