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Veterans benefits discussed

January 13, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Area military veterans had a chance to offer their opinions about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at a meeting with U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett on Monday.

Bartlett, R-Md., and a team of Veterans Affairs administrators assured the veterans who turned out that they're on a mission to keep the government's promise to care for sick veterans and to simplify an often complicated benefits system.

"This is a dialogue between our veterans and the veterans administration. Many of them don't know all the benefits they've earned, and the administration may not know some of the problems we have in delivering (the) benefits," Bartlett said.

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Bartlett's office organized the town meeting and workshop at Elks Lodge 378 in Hagerstown. About 30 veterans turned out to hear from Undersecretary for Veterans Benefits Vice Admiral Daniel L. Cooper, Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center Director George Moore, Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office (Baltimore) Director Dr. George G. Wolohojian and others.

Attending were veterans like Fred Wishard Jr., 79, who said he still suffers from a shrapnel injury to his foot sustained when he was a 19-year-old soldier during World War II.

Wishard said he's entitled to full disability benefits, but the Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to pay several of his medical claims.

After years of dealing with hospital staff, Wishard said he still doesn't understand why all his medical bills aren't being paid.

"I'm 100 percent disabled, I shouldn't be paying. It was free, now they charge me $375 a quarter to help pay costs," said Wishard.

Cooper said the VA's budget has gone up 32 percent in the last three years, a larger increase than any other budget in the government, with the exception of the Department of Defense.

Cooper said the VA is logging a 41-percent increase in productivity.

"Last year we settled claims for 800,000 veterans across the country," he said. "We get about 60,000 claims a month."

Three years ago, the average time to settle a claim was 233 days, while today the average time is 166 days, he said.

Veterans with questions about eligibility requirements can call 1-800-827-1000 or go to vabenefits.vba.va.gov on the Web.

Another public veterans meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 26, at 10 a.m. at Elks Lodge 378.

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