Veterans leave VBC with renewed optimism
Rainey Hardin (left), of Memphis, sits with his family Stephanie Powell (right) and Lily Goodman, nine months, while seeking assistance at the Memphis VBC at the Whitehaven Community Center in Memphis, Tenn. (Photo by Andrea Morales)

Veterans leave VBC with renewed optimism

For the last eight years, Gordon Richardson has been trying to get his service-connected benefits claim approved and compensated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was approved by the Board of Appeals in 2014, but Richardson had not received any compensation.

That will change, thanks to his visit to last week’s Veterans Benefits Center (VBC) in Memphis, where American Legion and VA representatives helped veterans unclog delayed claims, transition into the VA health-care system, schedule appointments, file disability or pension claims, and answer questions about the process. VBCs are open to all veterans and their families, regardless of Legion membership.

Richardson, who served in the Air Force from 1971-97, now expects nearly $17,000 in back payments.

“It makes me feel good because I have been calling for years,” said Richardson, whose disability rating went from 80 to 90 percent. “I know they have lots of veterans to take care of, but this is great with (The American Legion) here because we can talk directly to the VA.”

Beaming from ear to ear, Richardson was among scores of veterans who received good news at the VBC. “I’m glad the Legion came down here," he said. "More got done today with my claim today than in the past eight years.”

Hugh Lamar was also among the 130 veterans who received assistance from American Legion and VA staff members last week at the VBC.

At age 77, Lamar plays tennis three times a week and calls himself “healthy as a horse.”

But Lamar, a member of American Legion Post 284 in Arlington, Tenn., is struggling with hearing loss connected to his 38 years of service. “I can’t hear very well," he said. "I am a teacher part-time right now, and I have some trouble understanding my students. And I can’t understand my grandchildren, either.”

Lamar served in the Mississippi National Guard from 1956-59, then joined the Air Force for four years as a B-52 crew member. Afterward, in 1963, he joined the Tennessee Air National Guard, where he saw action in Vietnam and Panama and eventually and racked up 7,700 flying hours.

For Lamar, the time he spent at the VBC was “a good use of an hour.” Based on the advice from a Legion accredited representative, he learned that he needs additional documentation that he was on active duty and worked around large engines that will help prove his case.

“I made great strides here (at the VBC),” he said. “We reinforced my documentation, including a request for a letter from a general I served under. The new documentation will reinforce that I did put in the time and that I was on active duty, around large aircraft and noise.”

The VBC’s location in Memphis, nestled in the southwestern part of Tennessee, attracted veterans from Arkansas and Mississippi. But none of them likely came from farther away than Don Carbol, of Cleveland, Miss. — who drove more than 100 miles one-way to get assistance.

Carbol, an Army veteran, contracted Agent Orange in 1967-68. He came to the VBC to find where his appeal stood.

“I got some help,” said Carbol, a member of Post 165 in Cleveland, Miss. “I already get medicine from the VA. Now I am trying to get compensation for my Parkinson’s. The holdup is that the Board of Appeals has to look at it.”

When Carbol returned home, he was going to do his homework — providing an additional document that might help his claim – on the advice of a Legion representative. He remains optimistic that he and other veterans will get the benefits they earned through their service. “I know everything is backlogged, but we deserve these rights," he said.