VA Works to Get Vets Benefits
COLUMBIA - Workers from the Harry S Truman Veterans Hospital in Columbia worked Friday to sign up veterans for services they may have missed out on in the past. The work was part of the annual "welcome home" event for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to help register them for their benefits. But this year the VA teamed up with the Harley Owners Group rally to reach out to more vets.
Veteran's decked out in all their Harley Davidson gear stopped by the VA's booth to hear about the benefits that they can receive.
"These are benefits that those individuals earned and we want to make sure they take advantage of them," says Stephen Gaither, Truman public affairs officer.
Gaither said the VA has enrolled more than 42 percent of eligible returned combat veterans into the VA health care system, but that still leaves 58 percent who have not taken advantage of the benefits.
Twenty-year Air Force veteran David Burns talked with the hospital staff and got the information he needs to apply for benefits. He thinks its important for other vets to sign up. "If you have a need or disability you need addressed because I think it's owed to the veterans."
Gaither echoed that sentiment, "The biggest reason veterans should sign up, is because they're entitled to it."
Burns said the outreach from the VA is a great program. "People don't really appreciate the veterans these days," he said.
The hospital staff spoke to more than 125 veterans at the event. Many didn't know they were entitled to certain benefits.
"A lot of veterans have stopped by the booth. A lot from the Vietnam era that had never enrolled for health benefits and that's really exciting to see. A lot of them say feedback like, 'Oh I never thought of it' 'Oh I never took the time to do it.' I think it's neat to see that it's never too late to come in and get services" said Katie Burnham, homeless veterans coordinator at the VA. She said her father is also a veteran.
The VA says it really wants to reach out to those coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan because they are eligible for five years of free health care for combat-related injuries.
Vietnam vet William Roberts has some advice for younger veterans. "Go to your local hospital and get registered!" he said. "Later on something happens and you're in the system. If you have an emergency or something comes up, an illness or something related to the military, you're already in the system and you'll be covered."
When he's on the road, the avid Harley rider carries his VA hospital information in his wallet--just in case. "I'm just glad I'm in it. It's been nice to me, taking care of me and helping me along."
In addition to health benefits, the VA offers advocacy for veterans through its Government Relations Program, Homeless Vets Program, and Substance Abuse Outreach. It also has educational opportunities and other community involvement.
In 2009, the VA spent $93.4 billion on benefits.