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Service to citizen soldiers.

As our troops return home from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimated one in four have a service-connected disability, but most are largely unaware of their earned benefits for their service to our country.

DAV's National Service Officers (NSOs) and Transition Service Officers (TSOs) are working hard to ensure that returning troops know what benefits they are eligible to receive and where to turn for help in obtaining them.

"Our professional National Service Officers in Denver were called on to provide claims assistance for returning National Guard troops from the 133rd Engineer Battalion in Laramie, Wyoming," said NSO Jon C. Price, Jr. "We were asked by the Wyoming Department of Veterans Affairs to provide claims assistance for the troops returning from Iraq."

Returning National Guard soldiers are being briefed by NSOs across the country. In North Carolina, more than 250 National Guard participants joined two DAV briefings. In Arkansas, the National Guard members are routinely briefed when they return from deployment. Briefings were conducted every month in Puerto Rico last summer, and claims assistance was provided to 33 National Guard members.

Wyoming NSOs spent two days helping soldiers file benefits claims. They also assisted those already receiving VA disability compensation to file for additional benefits.

"We found ourselves being asked questions that we once asked of our DAV service officers, not only by the soldiers but their spouses as well," said Price. "As a result of that visit, we are getting claims from other National Guard units from outside of Colorado."

When he met with the National Guard members, Price explained the benefits, compensation, health care and state benefits that they to inquire about when they returned to their home station. "I could tell there was a lot of stress. Some of them had lost jobs while they were on active duty, even though that violates federal law."

NSOs briefed some 150 soldiers about the DAV, discussing their own military service to help identify with the returning troops. They obtained 80 powers of attorney and 74 claim applications which were processed through the Denver National Service Office.

"I'm a Desert Storm veteran myself," said Price. "During the briefing I told them about my experiences in Iraq, and they related and relaxed. Some began to discuss their problems. It broke the ice."

"They were more open than if they were talking to someone who had not been there," he said. "DAV knows what it's like."

"I felt good about it," said Price. We accomplished something. A few of the claims we received already have been decided favorably."

"There is a lot that these returning troops don't know, and we're working hard to ensure that they receive their rightful benefits," said National Service Director Randy Reese. "It is our mission to reach out to these men and women and provide the services they need."

It is a big job. About 1.5 million service members have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. So far, about 567,000 have been discharged, and as many as 400,000 returning service members could eventually apply for disability benefits after discharge.

About 52,000 of the Army's 200,000 reservists are currently on active duty with about 30,000 serving in Iraq. The equivalent of several National Guard brigades is deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sinai, the Horn of Africa and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Department of Veterans Affairs documents obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University show that 37 percent of active duty veterans have filed for disability compensation, compared to a significantly smaller 20 percent of those who served with the National Guard or Reserve units. In addition, 18 percent of claims filed by Guard and Reserve soldiers are denied, compared to 8 percent of those filed by active duty troops.

"Clearly, the Guard and reservists are falling through the cracks at a higher rate," said National Service Director Edward R. Reese. "It's the VA's job to review the difference."

To lend its services to our nation's citizen soldiers, the DAV recently joined forces with the National Guard in their Family Support Program, which gives Departments and Chapters the opportunity to get involved with community-based service and volunteer programs--both for the families when their loved ones are deployed, and when soldiers return home as disabled veterans.

"With so much reliance on the National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is a great way to show support for the troops and their families and a way for them to connect with the DAV family as well," said Reese.
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Author:Wilborn, Thom
Publication:DAV Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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