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The Veterans Service Organization

The Veterans Service Organization

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

The Veterans Service Organization has long been a part of the American landscape. For many of us, the groups that fall in this particular category have been recognized as cornerstones in our communities for decades. We grew up in their halls, going to all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts in the morning and playing bingo at night.

Some of them host karaoke and trivia nights, while others focus on baseball or dart leagues. By and large, though, they all have a higher purpose that resonates with those of us in the military community…and that’s to serve.

There are many – oh, so many – organizations that seemingly help with Veterans’ causes. A quick Google search of Veterans Service Organizations (VSO, for short) yielded about 156,000,000 results in 1.07 seconds. I don’t mean to imply that there are 156 million such groups, but you’ll probably need to dig a little deeper to really see what your options are.

Most of these organizations compete with each other – for members, for publicity, and for money. It seems they’re all vying for that federal grant, or that private foundation award, or for your hard-earned twenty bucks. Some have a great track record of using those donated dollars wisely, and others not so much, but you’ll have to decide where that ranks for you, when choosing where you should donate your time, talent, or treasure.

So, if you’re looking to connect with one, you’re going to have to wade through more than just the first few pages of your vague online query to find your next VSO home. Narrow your search a bit more…are you looking for one that’s local, regardless of their national footprint, or do you need a group to be Congressionally chartered before you’ll support it? Maybe you’re looking for one (or more) that has someone that can help with processing a VA claim.

If that’s the case, then that’s a whole other search, and an entirely different article. The other VSO is an acronym for Veterans Service Officer, not Veterans Service Organization. A VSO, in that sense of the word, can help you with the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims...and can be worth their weight in gold, if they know what they’re doing. Connect with a good VSO (organization) and they’ll help connect you with a good VSO (officer).

Getting back to your search for the right Veterans Service Organization, a really good place to start is the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2019 Directory of Veterans and Military Service Organizations. Found at va.gov/vso, this particular listing is provided as an informational service and is arranged in five parts: 

  • Part I is a listing of Congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organizations that are also recognized by the Department of VA Office of General Counsel for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of VA claims;
  • Part II is a listing of Veterans Service Organizations that are Congressionally chartered but that are NOT recognized by the VA for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of Veteran’s claims;
  • Part III is a list of Veteran organizations that are not Congressionally chartered but that are officially recognized by the VA for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of Veteran’s claims; 
  • Part IV lists those Veteran organizations that are neither Congressionally chartered nor officially recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of Veteran’s claims, but that represent the interest of American Veterans; and
  • Part V, a section focused on Intergovernmental Affairs and official resources at the state level.

I could take up a lot of digital real estate listing out some of these groups, but I won’t do that here. Just know that most of the organizations you’ve already heard of are on this list, as well as many of the ones you haven’t…from The American Legion, VFW, and DAV, to The Mission Continues and The National Association of Atomic Veterans. If this directory is still a little too much, get in touch with your state’s Department or Commission on Veterans Affairs and let them help you navigate these waters.

So, I challenge you to get involved. Join one or two Veterans Service Organizations whose mission connects with you. Whether you’re joining to start really giving back to the military community, or for the camaraderie and sense of belonging, I think you’ll be glad that you did.

Until next time…

More Veterans Need to Opt-in to VA’s Test Plan To Fix Appeals

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By Debbie Gregory.

Any time a veteran files a claim for disability that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rejects, they have the right to appeal. But the average wait before a final decision is six years — and one service member has even waited 25 years. As a result, the number of pending appeals has increased sharply, rising in the past two years alone from 380,000 to now 470,000 pending appeals.

The first pilot program of the new law, the Appeals Modernization Act of 2017 called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), is off to a slow start.

A lot of veterans have received information about, or invitations to join RAMP. The new law will be fully implemented in 2019, but in the meantime, the pilot program allows the VA to test how appeals will be handled in the future.

The law is meant to jump-start appeals reform within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with an eye toward ending the backlog.

To date, VA has sent veterans 15,000 invitations to try out the new RAMP process. About 3 percent of those who have been contacted opted into the program.

But members of Congress and GAO said they were concerned that VA’s sample size for the pilot is too small.

“If you can’t gather and analyze the data, we’re just going to be whistling in the wind,” committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. “When we start this RAMP up full, essentially a year from now, this is a massive change in how things are done at the VA. With so few people … how do we encourage more veterans to switch to a system they know to one right now that’s new and untried?”

VA said it would continue to work with veterans service organizations and Congress to help encourage their members and constituents to consider trying the department’s new system.

So far, VBA has been processing those appeals within 37 days, and 61 percent of veterans have won their appeals — significantly higher than the 25 percent of veterans who typically earn a positive decision.

Once VA fully implements RAMP,  veterans with high-level claims will have a decision in 125 days and cases that go to the Board of Veterans Appeals will be finished within about a year.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Decision Ready Claims – VA To Turn Around Disability Claims in 30 Days or Less

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has announced the official launch of the Decision Ready Claims (DRC) initiative, a program that should deliver faster claims decisions for veterans.

Veterans who submit their claim under DRC with accredited Veterans service organizations (VSO) can expect to receive a decision within 30 days from the time VA receives the claim. These organizations include Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

While DRC is currently limited to claims for increased compensation (commonly known as claims for increase), VA’s goal is to expand the types of claims accepted under the initiative.

VSOs will ensure that all supporting evidence (e.g. medical exam, military service records, etc.) is included with the claim submission. This advance preparation by the VSOs allows claims to be immediately assigned to claims processors for a quick decision.

The system has been in the pilot phase since May 1.

Under the DRC process, veterans can opt to do the paperwork legwork themselves ahead of time.

Then, a VSO representative can review the documents to ensure everything is in order. The VSO rep can then mandate additional evidence for the claim if it’s needed before the claim is submitted. Once filed, the VA has 30 days to respond.

The hope is that by shifting the legwork from VA representatives to veterans and VSOs, the claims backlog will be a thing of the past.

Of course, it will be up to each individual veteran to decide whether DRC will work in their case.

“It’s an aggressive pilot program, and we’re going to work with VA to make sure it works and meets the needs of veterans, that’s our top priority,” said Ryan Gallucci, VFW’s director of the national veterans service. “Anyone interested in this program should have an honest conversation with your veteran service officer.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Women Veterans Summit Registration Now Open

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By Debbie Gregory.

It’s been six years since the VA held its last national-level event for women veterans, and a lot has changed since 2011.

Registration is now open for the Women Veterans Summit, which will take place at the Hyatt Regency Downtown in Houston, Texas, August 25-26, with an opening reception on August. 24. Focusing on the issues important to women veterans, the event will provide training and guidance in navigating VA resources, as well as the resources that are available at the state, local, and partner level.

One of the keynote speakers, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho (Ret.) was the first woman and first nurse to serve as the Army’s surgeon general.

Additional speakers will include senior VA leaders who will be on hand to share information regarding employment, mental health, entrepreneurship, military sexual trauma, reproductive health, culture change and more.

Who should attend? Of course, women veterans, but also public sector partners, including military, federal, state and local agencies; Veterans service organizations, non-profits that serve this populations; academics; representatives and corporations from the tech industry; community partners; and VA employees, including women Veteran program managers and women Veteran coordinators

To keep current on the event, there is a dedicated summit webpage for updates. For more information, read the VA VAntage Point Blog or Register for the Summit.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

How to Correct Your Discharge and Military Records

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has renewed its efforts to ensure veterans are aware of the opportunity to have their discharges and military records reviewed for errors or omissions.

By utilizing Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), Military Service Organizations (MSOs) and other outside groups, as well as direct outreach to individual veterans, the DoD is encouraging all veterans who believe they may have an error or injustice on their record to request relief from their service’s Board for Correction (BCM) or Discharge Review Board (DRB).

For express consideration are issues pertaining to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and sexual assault.

The DoD is reaffirming its intention to review and potentially upgrade the discharge status of all individuals that are eligible and that apply.

Veterans who desire a correction to their service record or who believe their discharge was unjust, erroneous, or warrants an upgrade, are encouraged to apply for review.

For discharge upgrades, if the discharge was within the last 15 years, the veteran should download and complete theDD Form 293.

For discharges over 15 years ago, the veteran should download and complete the DD Form 149.

Keep in mind that the more information provided, the better the boards can understand the circumstances of the discharge.

Explain why the veteran’s discharge or other record was unjust or erroneous; was it connected to or a result of unjust policies, a physical or mental health condition related to military service, or some other explainable or justifiable circumstance.

And keep in mind that post-service conduct and contributions to society are an integral part of an upgrade or correction. If you volunteered to build houses with Habitat for Humanity, or was a fellow with the Mission Continues, be sure to include that, along with documentation of support.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.