Breaking down benefits: Help from Veteran Service Officers

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IRON MOUNTAIN, MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - "For a veteran the biggest barrier to accessing service is awareness," said Frank Lombard, the Upper Peninsula Regional Coordinator for the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.

The Michigan Veteran’s Affair Agency wants to break down that barrier through their website It is here where veterans can find their local veteran service officer and schedule an appointment to get a face-to-face meeting for assistance.

"We try to sort this out in procedure where we can do it as quickly and as fast as possible with the VA to get their benefits for them," said Larry Pascador, the Veterans Service Director of Dickinson County.

The VSO work to determine what federal VA benefits and state services veterans and their families qualify for and to help compile the necessary paper work to make the veterans claim.

"If they are handicapped or physically can’t get here, we will come to them," said Pascador.

To support a claim a veteran will need to have a certified copy of their discharge papers. Along with doctor statement of their current medical conditions. Medical evidence and treatment records are also needed to indicate a disability was caused or arose during active duty service. This paperwork is key to receive compensation and non-service pension. Similar paperwork is needed for educational assistance in G.I. bills and the vocational rehabilitation.

"We want to make sure our veterans maintain a certain quality of life, and definitely want to make sure our surviving spouses of veterans don’t fall below the national poverty level," said Craig Salo, the Marquette County Veteran Service Officer.

And if a veteran is considered 100 percent disabled or rated unemployable, the State of Michigan offers a property tax exemption on their home.

"Instead of paying $2,200 in annual property taxes they can reallocate that to use in any way they deem fit for their own quality of life," said Salo.

VSO can also assist veterans in financial emergencies. If a vet sees a decrease in daily income or unexpected hospitalization, the Michigan Veteran’s Trust Fund can assist with housing, utilities, or car payments.

"That’s the organization located in Lansing and if a veteran in our county has an emergent need, they could be eligible for assistance," said James Brown, a Dickinson County Veteran Service Officer.

VSOs say because every veteran is unique, so too is their eligibility for benefits. But each officer has a common goal.

"To get the veterans in our county to understand that yes, you deserve have benefits that you are entitled to and should be receiving if you are not," said Brown.

Wednesday, TV6 will be highlight how the Community Action Alger Marquette is providing local housing services in all 15 counties throughout the UP.

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