On March 30, the Spitzer Conference Center hosted Lorain County Community College’s first Veterans Town Hall and Free Claim Clinic. The event was hosted by the Veteran’s Benefit Administration, which partnered with LCCC Veterans, Military Service Member Center, and the Lorain County Veterans Service Commission. The Cleveland Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional office hosted this interactive town hall meeting for veterans in the hopes to better educate veterans in the school and community on the topic, “What to do when the VA says ‘No’”. The event took place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and allowed for independent personal counseling for those seeking more guidance afterwards.
The purpose of the event was to educate veterans about receiving VA assistance, and how to begin the process. The event featured a panel of speakers that included Charles Moore, Veterans Service Center Manager; Nicole Betts, appeals coach at the Cleveland regional VA office; Darlene Ehrler, a spokeswoman for the VA regional office; and Larry Zietlow, public contact coach for the regional office. The meeting included a discussion about the various distinctions of the claims process, with a strong emphasis on what to do when a veteran is denied VA assistance and an education on the appeals process. After the panel discussion, individual assistance was offered by VA experts. “By having our claims examiners here that can pull up records remotely, veterans don’t physically have to drive to Cleveland to have their claims examined and documents reviewed,” said Ehrler.
According to the Veteran’s Benefits Resource guide, Ohio’s veterans are eligible to apply for federal, state, and local benefits that they’ve earned. Some of these benefits at the federal level include disability compensation, pension, health care, education, home loans, burial, and survival benefits. At the state level, veterans are eligible for some of the same services in addition to support from Ohio Veterans Homes and the Military Injury Relief Fund. At a more local level, they are able to obtain claim preparation and assistance, financial assistance, transportation to VA medical appointments, and indigent burials.
To obtain these benefits, veterans must file claims and go through an intricate reviewing process. “There was a need to educate veterans on some of the specific nuances of VA benefits and appeals. In an effort to educate veterans on our very complicated processes, we came up with this type of concept,” said Ehrler.
The event was open to the community as well as students. “We started at Tri-C, we did it at both East and West, and we had a great response. Then we took our show on the road to Ohio State,” said Ehrler. “By partnering with local colleges, they’re able to provide us with a great venue for the event and they’re also able to provide us with a pulse in the veteran’s community, especially student veterans. It’s a great partnership we’re forging.”
As secretary of the Veterans Benefit Administration, Bob McDonald’s main goal was to open accessibility to VA benefits. He strives to do this with the help of initiating these events with panels of experts to educate local communities and spread awareness. “We’re really trying to get out into the community and show we’re here for them in both telephone, eBenefits, and in person,” explained Ehrler. “We’re trying to be more visible and be more accessible.”
The traveling event plans to partner with more area colleges, traveling to Lakeland Community College next, with plans to go to both Cincinnati and the University of Toledo.