Fighting for vets PDF Print E-mail
Written by ALEX ASPACHER Sentinel Staff Writer   
Wednesday, 28 August 2013 09:17
Veteran John Shaffer of Fremont, Ohio addresses a question to a panel of presenters during a Veterans Forum at Owens Community College. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Veterans are struggling within a complicated benefits system that has led to a massive claims backlog within the agencies meant to process them.
The system is confusing for many who suffer from injuries and illness related to their military service, and getting a response can take months, even years.
A forum at Owens Community College on Tuesday was meant to clarify the ever-changing system for those in attendance, as well as make them aware of other benefits and programs.
The event was hosted by U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) and attended by officials from the Ohio Department of Veterans Services and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as State Rep. Tim Brown (R-Bowling Green) and State Sen. Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green). Latta hosted a similar event in Defiance earlier Tuesday.
After addresses by representatives of both organizations and Dr. Tom Gross, clinical director of the VA Toledo Clinic, Latta and the speakers answered questions about specific claims before offering to help individuals navigate the bureaucratic system to get the benefits they've earned.
"We want to get this information out to veterans about how they can get help," Latta said.
"We want to make sure they understand it's not us against them, that the mission of all these people here is to help them."SClBApplications for benefits are complex, and the process can go back to square one if a vet forgets even one page of a required document. Tim Espich, chief operating officer of the Ohio Department of Veterans Service, said organizations have begun shifting to digital records systems to cut down on delays, though it's clearly still a work in progress.
Samuel Slaughterbeck of Perrysburg Township, speaks to a fellow veteran near a panel of presenters during a Veterans Forum.
Often those who need help the most are the most difficult to contact. Gross urged those present to help fellow veterans identify resources such as the clinic and urge them to seek the assistance waiting for them.
"I want you to know that this facility is for your use and is for all veterans, and you should take advantage of it," Gross said.
"You should join our facility if you haven't joined, and you should brag about it to your friends who don't know anything about it. You should bring them to our institution. This is where the veterans belong. SLps You've earned it, you deserve it, and you should use it."
Larry Zietlow of the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration discussed his own experience transitioning to civilian life after 20 years in the Navy, eventually touting the fully-developed claim program, a new process designed to cut down on the back-and-forth between agencies and those they serve.
One document was reduced from eight pages to just two, and veterans are asked to submit all required records with the initial application. Later, other items can be shared digitally or produced via teleconference to cut down on delays due to records transfers or documents becoming lost between agencies.
"The major initiatives between getting all the files electronically, getting into the fully-developed claim process and streamlining that whole thing, is going to reduce the number of days that it takes to get a decision," Zietlow said.
"I understand the backlog is unacceptable, you understand that the backlog is unacceptable. I want you to know that those of us with our boots on the ground are out here doing something about it, and we've been successful with it."
Samuel Slaughterbeck, a Perrysburg Township veteran, spoke up several times during the presentation to share tips with others and urge them to fight for their own cause and not get bogged down in the difficulties.

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