VETERANS CORNER: Best way to apply for VA benefits is to contact a veterans service officer

by Gary Kennedy

Those of us who have been in the VA system for some time assume that everyone knows how to apply for help from the VA. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I meet people all the time that don’t have a clue on how to become part of the system. That is exactly what you must do to begin with, become part of the system.

The best way to begin is to connect with a Veteran’s Service Officer, (VSO). There are many agencies that can be of help such as American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Maine Veterans Services and Paralyzed Veterans of Maine. There are also independents such as myself as well as VA lawyers. The latter one is a last resort as it will cost you a percentage of your initial win. However, they have a good track record in financial recovery. Also, as I stated in previous issues the most knowledgeable V.S.O.’s are located at Veteran Services on the second floor of building 248. They now accept walk-ins or you can call and make an appointment. In my opinion this is the fastest way you can achieve your goal. Once again the number is 207-621-6938. Their door remains locked at street level so you will have to enter via building 200 or 205.

VA has made changes since covid. Some of the doctors we have grown to know have either left for greener pastures or retired. Dr. Susan Hage, physiatrist, has gone as well as Dr. Cathy Boulet, both of the PN clinic. They will be missed. However, they have been replaced by some knowledgeable medical professionals such as Dr. Macy, physiatrist. She is very gentle and extremely knowledgeable. They really know their stuff when it comes to anatomy and physiology.

That is a very complicated skill set but take is from me they really have their stuff together. They know what pain is all about and how to deal with it. I have found that department to be very thorough. Also many of you remember Dr. Juta Eichelman, Doctor of Neurology. She was that great doctor with the German accent. I spent a couple of years in Germany and was stationed near her home. Through the years we became great friends.

As most of you know the equipment in that department broke down years ago and EMG’s were all farmed out at great expense. This was very heartening for Dr. Eichelman. I don’t know if she resigned or just retired. I for one do miss her. Since then new equipment has been acquired. Orthopedics has also had some changes. Drs. Beauchene and Olinik have left. Actually, I believe we are still short an orthopedic surgeon and I have heard we could use more operating theatres.

Also, I might add, emergency needs more room, as well as a better access to the emergency room for ambulances. Stroke and heart attack care experience is of great demand at every medical facility. They are disorders that are extremely time sensitive. There has been some turn over at Podiatry, however, Dr. Melissa Williams is still running the show and is an excellent foot and ankle doctor and surgeon. Her door is always open to our veterans. For the veteran that is an area of expertise that is direly needed.

There has been some retirement in Release of Information but Donna, Ruth and Sandy are still able to keep the door open and the flow of needed information available to their veterans. Their job is probably the most stressful positions in all of VA as they are responsible for not only VA medical records but social security issues as well. Unfortunately, they are always shorthanded. Be patient with them as they are doing the best they can, with limited staff. I hear a lot of people say “if I were running the show”, I would do this and that. If I were running the show with the VA budget I would prioritize and implement that which is critical. However, that is too logical a solution. In any case we veterans need the VA system even with its flaws.

The administration should know that 75 years ago, or so, veterans were given a pool and gym in which to work out their physical and emotional problems. That was considered important then and hasn’t changed to this day. We have been sending letters to Washington in order to gain some support and also remove the non-military obstacles that plague veterans receiving the care they need and deserve. That facility is the home of thousands of physical therapy interventions and should be considered alongside the other support venues that should be available to veterans.

A new school of thought is needed regarding this issue. Many veterans still talk about this loss, taken by the administration. If enough of us stand for our rights the powers that be will disappear and things will go back to normal. Administration has opted to make our bricks pretty at the cost of just repairing the pool which is needed for spinal therapy and emotional therapy. For some of us veterans this is a home away from home and serves to help us live longer, and more pain free lives. We need Washington to step in. Please give the gym back to the veteran and open the pool. It is now being used to store hospital beds. Very sad!

It is a slap in the face to veterans to rent our facility out to employees and deny veterans access. While at the same time tell veterans VA will pay for them to go to YMCA. We always shared the gym with employees on scheduled days per week. Now the director is saying it should be used as an employee perk. There are 500 acres at VA. Let them perk somewhere else. There perhaps should be more veterans employed in the administration office. For sure, that office is not listening as they didn’t listen about building the Hospitality House on wet lands.

As you know, I did file a complaint with the State of Maine before they built it, in order to eliminate the follies and to protect the wildlife habitat there. They built the building and now it is shutdown and sinking, after only one year. It’s a shame and wasteful spending of other people’s money. I send my thoughts and feelings to D.C., and at least, they will know we are watching.

In closing I will share a couple of things that I had forgotten. The first would be we lost a great man, Nathan Laverriere, Chief of Business Service Line (BSL) at Togus. I believe that’s considered an over sight committee. Some employees have discussed this. I can’t elaborate as I am not personally familiar with this person, only what I am told. What I do know is he is sorely missed by the staff of Release of Information but was transferred to the Boston Office.

Elections are coming up and we wait with anticipation regarding the change of the guard. We are hoping for recognition and change before too many of the ‘Nam Era Vets expire without the peace they seek.

Vets meet weekly so hopefully I will have some more news for you next time, perhaps of a more positive nature. I know we all need it.

God bless you and yours.

The views of the author of this column are not necessarily those of The Town Line newspaper, its staff and board of directors.


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