“They’re a tremendous help, because they provide the opportunity to veterans who are having trouble with their claim to actually sit down with a [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] rater,” said Stephen J. Allred, director of veterans services for Haywood County. “These VA raters are the people who make the decisions on your claim.”
Megan Miller, assistant veterans service center manager for the VA in Winston Salem, is one of those decision makers and was on hand at Meadows’ Aug. 3 event.
“We are here trying to help people make the process more understandable,” Miller said. “We find that sometimes, with the information available in our booklets and on our website, there’s a lot of complex laws relating to their service and their medical conditions. Sometimes you need to speak to a person one-on-one to navigate the process and get to a better resolution.”
“Normally, a veteran has no access to these raters, so this is Congressman Meadows bringing veterans in direct contact with the VA raters,” Allred said. “This is a unique opportunity, and we’ve had tremendous successes.”
Meadows appeared at the vets event — which was but one of several scheduled in his 11th Congressional District — briefly to address those gathered there.
“He really stressed that this was a non-political, bipartisan type of event,” said Allred, who’s been to all four of Meadows’ vet events in Haywood County. “This is not to curry favor — it’s strictly to serve those who served us. “
Serving veterans is the bulk of Allred’s job; he said that he sees a lot of people who suffered injuries while in the service and want them to be acknowledged.
“If you submit a claim to the VA, the VA’s going to take a look at it and hopefully award you a percentage of disability, which carries a monetary benefit,” he said. “I help the veteran put a good claim together, and then I send that to the VA, and advocate on their behalf to get that awarded.”
Occasionally, veterans run into problems with incomplete or duplicate claims, or a lack of evidence, which is sometimes attributable to the culture of service itself.
“Take for instance your average infantryman. It’s a culture within infantry and the cavalry to never go to sick call unless you’re made to,” he said. “You just truck on with it and you don’t complain. You never cry about it.”
But that leads to injuries going untreated and possibly worsening, especially in the case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“There is a stigma about it, and I know a lot of guys don’t want to talk about their PTSD,” he said. “They’re not ready, but they need to be, so they can get the proper help.”
Jeremy Hughes, a veterans service officer for the North Carolina Department of Veterans Affairs, also helps veterans, family members and their dependents get benefits by acting as a liaison between county officers like Allred and the federal government.
Hughes thinks that getting veterans the help they need is becoming easier.
“The VA has gotten faster and faster over the past two years at processing claims,” he said. “I’m seeing claims processed quicker. Last year this event had 70-some people, and today we’ve had less than 40, so something’s working.”