Providing veterans with a ‘road map’ within the VA
From 2016 to 2019, American Legion Post 67 in Cary, N.C., staged three Veterans Experience Action Centers (VEACs), bringing Department of Veterans Affairs staff face to face with veterans in need of benefits assistance. The events came as a result of then-Department of North Carolina service officer Cajun Comeau organizing similar centers.
Close to 3,000 veterans attended the three Post 67 events, with some receiving life-changing VA disability ratings on the spot. But then came a global pandemic. As a result, no such events took place in 2020 and 2021. But there was still a need, as was made obvious during the opening day of 2022’s version of the VEAC.
On March 17-19, Post 67 again played sponsor to a benefits assistance events, now titled Veterans Benefits Live. The post brought in close to 30 VA employees, including those from both the Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration, as well as more than a dozen veteran service officers from across the state.
On the opening day alone, around 400 veterans from North Carolina and surrounding states showed up at the Herbert C. Young Community Center to request assistance with filing claims, checking on pending claims, filing appeals and other areas of need.
Looking across the center’s largest room and seeing dozens and dozens of veterans waiting to be seen showed “it’s very much needed, and we’re doing the right thing,” said Past Department of North Carolina Adjutant and Commander Frank Stancil, a member of Post 67 and former aide to Past National Commander Ray Smith. “It was something that needed to be done to help the VA. They’re overwhelmed, it seems like everywhere. We started this when I was department adjutant. (Cajun) came up with the idea … and it’s just blossomed since then.”
Post 67 Commander Richard Spyrison, who has served as the organizer of all of his post’s benefits assistance events, said the VEACs and its current version provide veterans an opportunity “to be able to sit down and talk with the VA about their particular claims and issues. To give that particular veteran a chance to get some answers, possibly get a rating. But when a veteran talks with the VA about their issues and can’t get a rating, they’re going to get a road map on how to finish. That’s a key. Our focus is to give that veteran as much information as we can to help them finish the process with the VA.”
And that’s what U.S. Army veteran Bradley Moses of nearby Raleigh got when he came looking to see if he could increase his VA disability rating. Moses walked out of the center thinking he was going to get the increase.
“(Coming to the center) was very beneficial,” Moses said. “The rater explained the process, which is good. A lot of times you don’t understand how these things work. It’s quicker. More expeditious and more thorough. You get a better understanding of how things work and where you’re at. I think it’s great. I think it’s fantastic.”
Also attending Day 1 of Veterans Benefits Live were Department of South Carolina Commander Ron Price and First Vice Commander Jim Jarvis, who came to both observe and learn more about how to put on such an event.
“Quite frankly, we don’t have anything like this in South Carolina,” Price said. “We’re working to make this happen in South Carolina. We’re hoping in the next year we can get something on this nature going on there with the (State Veterans Affairs), as well as the VA facilities there.”
Price said it’s clear how important a role Post 67’s events have played in assisting veterans. “The need is tremendous, and that is obvious,” he said. “You’ve got people here from Maryland. You’ve got people here from several other states within the region that come all the way here. So, there’s not only a strong need here in North Carolina, but there’s a strong need throughout our nation. That is why South Carolina is trying to get on board with this.”
Check back later this week for more coverage from Veterans Benefits Live.