Commentary: Am I entitled to VA benefits?

John DeMello, Southington Veterans Committee
Phone: (860) 276-6299
Email: Demellofam@gmail.com

Over the years, most veterans and their families were not aware of their entitlements from their military service. Some veterans, upon being discharged, walked away from their military service seeking employment in the civilian world. A number of veterans never pursued care at local VA hospitals for their injuries or illnesses that were service connected.

Some veterans, after getting discharged, never wanted to go to the VA. They did not want to be bothered registering, or some believed the next veteran needed the treatment, care and benefits more than they did. It was years later that these same veterans were in need of VA care and learned that they were ineligible. Others that suffered the wounds of war or service connected injuries, and lost out on years of disability entitlements.

Over the years of assisting veterans, it was learned that most do not want to seek help. They believe it will hurt them in the future, so they try to deal with their issues alone. The VA has some great programs and groups. Reach out for only a fool believes they can solve their problems alone.

The Town of Southington Veterans Committee has been assisting veterans and their families in seeking claims for various military issues to include “Agent Orange,” a tactical herbicide used to reduce vegetation and tree cover in Vietnam. It was also used in the DMZ in Korea between April 1,1968 and August 31, 1971. It was learned that Agent Orange created numerous health issues in veterans serving in these areas, but not limited to these areas.

Those veterans that were in the areas the defoliant was used may contact the veterans service office in Southington for guidance or the VA Environmental Health Coordinators at the local VA hospitals.

There are other issues that are concerns of veterans, another issue is “bad paper discharges,” in which veterans were discharged other than honorable (OTH), and they suffered or developed post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), mental heath problems, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or military sexual trauma (MST).

The issue with these “bad paper discharges” is that they deny veterans the benefits from their military service, such as employment, medical treatment, mental health treatment and numerous benefits they earned during their military service. A federal court in Connecticut has certified a nationwide class-action lawsuit seeking relief for some 50,000 Iraq and Afghanistan Army veterans who were labeled with less than honorable discharges. The Army law suit follows a similar case bought by the Navy and Marine Corps.

Yale Law School Veterans Legal Clinic and the law firm of Jenner & Block are representing veterans in this suit. The suit means that a review of these “bad paper discharges” may give these veterans a second chance at federal and state VA resources..

Please attend our monthly coffee hour with our community partner, the Southington Library, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 10 a.m., at 255 Main St. in Southington.

Please contact us for further assistance at SouthingtonVets@southington.org or (860) 276-6299.

John DeMello is a member of the Southington Veterans Committee. The committee can be reached at Town Hall, 75 Main St., by phone at (860) 276-6299, or by email at SouthingtonVets@southington.org.

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