Florida Legion post hosting PACT Act outreach event

Florida Legion post hosting PACT Act outreach event

For Department of Florida Legionnaire Susan Kohler, building a strong relationship with local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) staff is critical in advocating for veterans of all war eras. This weekend, that relationship will be on full display when American Legion Post 273 in Madeira Beach will host a PACT Act outreach event in collaboration with staff from the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.

From 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on April 29, representatives from the Veterans Benefits Administration’s St. Petersburg Regional Office will be onsite to speak with veterans about the expansion of benefits for presumptive conditions through the PACT Act. Veterans also will be able to enroll in VA healthcare and schedule screenings to find out if they are eligible for benefits under the PACT Act.

Kohler, a member of Post 273’s executive committee, the incoming second vice commander and post service officer, and a Paid-Up-For-Life Legionnaire, said when veterans visit the post, one of the first things they’re asked is if they have any medical conditions associated with their military service.

“I immediately say, ‘Have you gone to the VA?’” Kohler said. “Many of the younger vets say ‘That’s for the older guys.’ I’ll say, ‘No, you need to come in and let me and our commander talk to you, where you could possibly have a case and open it early. Don’t wait until you’re 80 and then try to file a claim for an injury that’s now more difficult to demonstrate that it happened while you were in the service.’

“So having that partnership (with VA) is critical. We’re on the frontlines for advocating and being allies for our veterans.”

Kohler said Bay Pines reached out to the post about hosting the event because of the post’s proximity to the medical center and because the two entities work regularly together. “Their PR person called a couple weeks ago to let us know what they were thinking of doing and if we’d be open to having the event at our post,” she said. “I said, ‘Absolutely, 100 percent.’”

Kohler said there is a critical need for events like this weekend’s because of the expansion of benefits eligibility through the PACT Act. “One of the biggest things is there’s so many people that had (toxic) exposure, especially during the Gulf War, that weren’t previously recognized (for VA benefits eligibility),” she said. “And at this point they’ve said, ‘No, I’m not going to pursue anything.’ What’s great about this event is it gives them an opportunity to speak directly with VA staff. We’re going to have eligibility people here … and medical staff to do some initial exams so that these people who previously would have that, ‘Hey, I’m not qualified,’ will be able to find out pretty quickly and then be able to set up an appointment with VA.”

Via press release, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System Director and CEO Paul M. Russo said Bay Pines is “excited for this opportunity to bring PACT Act information and resources to veterans in the local community. American Legion Post 273 is a fantastic veteran service organization, and we look forward to working with veterans and survivors to explore eligibility for additional benefits to their health care.”

Learn more about potential PACT Act benefits here.