Laptop helps vets office

Friday, July 1, 2011

There's plenty of help available for all the veterans in Marshall County -- all a veteran has to do is ask for it.

Now the asking is even easier. Billy Hill and Rick Roberts of the Veterans Services Office have a new laptop, and they plan on taking it on visits to veterans, and widows of veterans, who are homebound, or in nursing homes or assisted livings, and cannot visit the office.

"We asked for donations for a laptop so when we went out in the field we could be more efficient in helping veterans and their widows," Hill said. The local veterans' organizations were generous, and donated a total of $1,000, which was used to buy an HP laptop running Windows 7 Professional. Hill and Roberts have downloaded a program from the Veterans Administration that contains all the new forms.

"All veterans organizations honor the dead by helping the living," said VFW Post Commander Hundley Ford Sr. "We take care of our veterans in time of need."

"I'm a former Veterans Service officer," said Larry Hastings, commander of the American Legion post. "I know how a laptop would have helped me. Technology makes the job so much easier."

Hastings said when he used to go visit veterans who couldn't come to the office, he would take a briefcase full of forms.

"You'd need a suitcase for all the forms they have today," Hill told him, adding that nowadays claims can be filed electronically, straight from the computer.

The Marshall County Veterans Service office is in the Hardison Office Annex at 230 College St., Lewisburg. It's open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

"Everything that covers a veteran, that's what we exist for," Hill explained. He went on to say the Veterans Service Office can help veterans apply for benefits, qualify for loans, and get information on health issues and education. Survivors of a veteran can get help with burial services and tombstones.

The money passing through the Marshall County office has grown from half a million dollars to $2 million in the past six years, and they are currently serving over 2,000 veterans.

All veterans of the wars America has recently been involved in - World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan - should visit the Veterans Service Office to see what their benefits are, Hill said.

He especially wants to get the word out to Vietnam veterans that the guidelines for receiving benefits because of exposure to Agent Orange have changed.

"They've changed all the compensation parameters," Hill said. "They need to check back in to see if they're covered." More health issues have been linked to Agent Orange, and benefits now extend to veterans who never set foot in Vietnam, but came in contact with Agent Orange at stateside bases, or on ships transporting it. Even the drinking water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with Agent Orange for a certain period of time.

"The widow of a deceased Vietnam veteran can also sometimes get benefits," Hill said. "It's kind of a trial and error thing."

Hill and Roberts both stressed that they don't have a list of veterans resident in Marshall County - they only know who they are if they introduce themselves at the office.

"We know there are many of them out there," Roberts said. "But they have to ask. If we don't know their needs, we can't help!"

Hill said a lot of people don't know the Veterans Service Office has a 15-passenger van with a wheelchair lift that goes to the Murfreesboro on Tuesdays and Nashville on Thursdays, to take veterans to their doctors' appointments. The van was donated in the '90s, and operating expenses are all paid out of donations to the office, not from county funds, except for using county gasoline. The Lewisburg Elks Club donated free oil changes. At the current rate, money to keep the van running will be used up by December, Roberts said, so the office is looking for more donations.

In conclusion, Hill and Roberts urged all veterans to visit their office, and also to join whichever veterans' organization(s) they are qualified for.

"We have applications for all of them in the office," they said.