Did the VA read anything I submitted to them? Are these outside medical exams a scam? Who is willing to fight for me?
Veteran Service Officer Joe Sapien.
These are all common questions that Joseph Sapien, a Southern California-based Veteran Service Officer and Army vet, encounters on a daily basis. Veteran Service Officers, or "VSOs," serve as a free resource to help vets properly submit disability claims and steer them to all the benefits of their service.
WATM recently spoke with Sapien on what it's like serving as a VSO and got some advice from him on how to handle issues veterans face during the process of filing claims with the VA.
1. Where do I find a Veteran Service Officer to help with my claim?
Finding a Veteran Service Officer is as easy as picking up the phone and dialing 888-777-4443 to locate the office nearest you or by visiting the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Veterans, or the Disabled American Veterans. Visiting a VSO is free of charge. Veterans should refrain from paying out of pocket to any agency claiming to offer them help with their claim. There are veterans services available in all 50 states.
2. Who is willingly to fight for me?
One benefit that a lot of veterans don't take advantage of is calling up their congressman. Sapien says it's a good idea for all vets to know who their elected officials are and meet them in person.
"This guy listens and tries to help vets, I have seen him give his time and thoughts on veteran matters, and that impressed me," Sapien says of his local congressman, Rep. Tony Cárdenas.
3. What are some benefits Veterans don't know about?
Caregiver program: This program provides monthly stipends to pay for support caregivers along with home and vehicle modifications for those who qualify. Caregivers of eligible veterans are urged to apply through the Caregiver Program website or by calling 855-260-3274.
College fee waiver: This program is set up to waive tuition fees for dependents and possibly for spouses. This is a state-based program. Visit your local VSO for more information.
4. What paperwork should I have before visiting a VSO?
Having the most current medical record on hand is key. If it's not up-to-date, consider tracking the paperworkdown by getting in touch with your previous commands. Have a good solid copy of your service record on hand as well as your DD-214. The better your records are kept, the fewer bumps in the road. Just remember, filing is a process.
If you're missing some of the documents, you can request them from archives.gov. It typically takes four to six weeks.
5. What Joe would like you to know
"We need to take care of each other. The only reason our era of veterans are getting better treatment and benefits is due to the Vietnam veterans who fought for our government," Sapien says. "They fought and kept fighting for what was right, not for what was popular, not for the status quo. It's our turn to stand. It is our turn to fight for future generations, so when they come home, they will be taken care of better than we are today."