Free veterans benefits assistance from VFW Service Officer

The Pennsylvania Veterans of Foreign Wars invites veterans of all ages and from all service eras to utilize its Service Officer Network to receive free information and assistance for government benefits including VA healthcare, compensation, pension, education and dependent benefits. Surviving spouses can also use VFW Service Officers to learn about their eligibility for VA benefits.

Appointments with the VFW Service Officer are available at the following locations (scheduled appointments are recommended to minimize wait times): State Senator Judy Schwank’s office at 210 George Street, Reading, PA 19605, on the third and fourth Mondays of each month, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and The Paul R. Gordon Veterans Social Center, 645 North 6th Street, Reading, at various times.

For appointments at either location call (484) 577-6898 and request a location and date.

In 2007, the PA Legislature passed Act 66 to appropriate funds to assist veteran’s service organizations with connecting veterans with their benefits. The PA VFW used grant funds to expand its service network by hiring additional Outreach Service Officers.

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Veterans do not have to be a VFW member to receive benefit filing assistance, but they must provide a DD-214 discharge form and possibly other information about their military service in order to enter a VA claim. Veterans requesting that the VFW becomes involved in their claim will need to sign a form declaring the VFW as their power of attorney. Veterans scheduling an appointment with a VFW Service Officer, who have already signed a power of attorney with another organization, must choose one organization to move forward with their claim.

If veterans have already been diagnosed with a condition they should gather paperwork—including doctor reports—that define the injury or illness. Veterans who want the VA to review earlier claim decisions due worsening health will need to demonstrate that the condition has further escalated. Submitting new medical evidence with the claim will help minimize delays in the VA rating review process.

Vietnam veterans should know that the VA has defined some health conditions as being “presumptive” for being caused by exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange. Veterans with these health conditions may be eligible for benefits (there are qualifying issues with each condition): AL Amyloidosis, Chronic B-cell Leukemias, Chloracne, Diabetes Mellitus Type 2, Hodgkin’s Disease, Ischemic Heart Disease, Multiple Myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Parkinson’s Disease, Peripheral Neuropathy/ Early-Onset, Porphyria Cutanea Tarda, Prostate Cancer, Respiratory Cancers, and Soft Tissue Sarcomas. For more details visit www.va.gov and search for Agent Orange information.

Each year, the PA VFW helps veterans receive more than $30 million of federal benefit dollars through its Service Office network, which hires and trains full-time Service Officers to work with benefit claims during all stages of processing including holding powers of attorney and handling appeals to VA decisions. In addition to these accredited full-time Service Officers, more than 500 Pennsylvania VFW members serve as volunteer Post Service Officers who offer more general information.

Veterans can find general information about the VFW’s Service Officer network by visiting www.vfwpahq.org and entering the “VA Claims Help” section. Sections for “Veterans Links” and “Veterans Resources” also provide helpful information.

The Pennsylvania VFW—with 80,000 members in 440 Posts—is the largest state VFW organization. Each year, PA VFW posts perform volunteer hours valued at more than $13 million and donate $3 million to charities, youth, public safety, families in need, community projects and other programs.

Local VFW Posts benefit their communities through support of programs that benefit youth, senior citizens, military personnel, less fortunate persons, veterans of all ages, students and teachers. The VFW has been a critical supporter of every major piece of legislation that benefits veterans and their families. Staff in the VFW National Legislative Affairs office in Washington, D.C. advocate for those who have served America in a military uniform and for those defending America today.