Several readers of The Island News and others have recently asked me the following two questions:
- Who can help me determine what my veterans’ benefits are?
- Who can help me file a claim with the VA?
You can read about who can help you determine what VA benefits you are eligible for and how to file a claim at https://bit.ly/3rOJMhw.
South Carolina residents can also find claims assistance information at the SC Department of Veteran Affairs website at https://bit.ly/34EZaEf. Most importantly, you can find a complete listing of S.C. County Veterans’ Service Offices at https://bit.ly/3gI8zNF.
If you need help filing a claim or appeal, you should consider working with a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) or an accredited attorney or a claims agent. The VA trusts these professionals because they’re trained and certified in the VA claims and appeals processes and can help you with VA-related needs.
Veterans Service Officers work for local state and county governments and veterans Service Organizations (American Legion, VFW, AMVETS, DAV, PAV, etc.) and both the organizations and the individual are called VSOs. VSOs, certified claims agents, and accredited attorneys work on behalf of veterans and service members, as well as their dependents and survivors. They work with, but do not work for the VA.
VSOs and accredited representatives are trusted by the VA and veterans because they have to pass an exam, pass a background check, and take continuing education courses to make sure they are providing the most up-to-date information. VSOs and accredited representatives can help military members, veterans, and their families to understand and apply for VA benefits, like: financial support (monthly payments), education, Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E), home loans, life insurance, pension, health care, and burial benefits.
As trained and certified professionals, they can also help veterans:
Gather supporting documents (like doctor reports or medical tests).
File a claim or appeal on your behalf.
Provide added support, like helping with transportation to medical appointments or emergency funds.
In general, no individual or organization may charge you a fee to help you file your initial application for benefits. However, accredited claims agents and lawyers may charge you for unusual expenses. It’s only after the VA has made a decision about your original claim that VA-accredited claims agents and attorneys may charge for their services.
Make sure you ask up front what, if any, fees you’ll be charged. If you believe a claims agent or attorney charged a fee that’s too high, you can challenge it. You can read about how to challenge a fee at https://bit.ly/3sGnqh8.
You can find an accredited representative or a VSO in the following ways:
- Go to list of names, phone numbers, addresses and email addresses at the SC Directory of VSOs at https://bit.ly/3HNQLwt. Make sure you call them and make an appointment before going to their office. This will ensure you will know what to bring with you (for example DD214, Military Medical and Personnel Records, etc.) and prevent you from wasting a trip to the office without an appointment.
- Go to eBenefits gateway at VSO Search – VA/DoD eBenefits to find a local representative (including a recognized VSO, an attorney, or a claims agent) by state/territory, zip code, or the organization’s name. Open https://bit.ly/35ZKNur in your browser and click on Go to eBenefits.
- Or search the VA Office of the General Counsel’s list at https://bit.ly/3gGQWht to find VA-recognized organizations and VA-accredited individuals by name, city, state, or zip code. You can also download and view the VA’s Office of the Secretary Veterans and Military Organizations 2019 Directory at https://bit.ly/3HMYc7m.
The VA’s Veterans and Military Organizations 2019 Directory is organized into the following five parts.
Part I: Listing of approximately 30 congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organizations, which are also recognized by the Department of VA Office of General Counsel for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims under laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Part II: Listing of approximately 11 congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organizations, which are NOT recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purpose of preparation, presentation and prosecution of Veteran’s claims only.
Part III: Listing of 3 Veteran organizations, which are NOT congressionally chartered, but are officially recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purpose of preparation, presentation and prosecution of Veteran’s claims only.
Part IV: Listing of approximately 84 Veteran organizations, which are NOT congressionally chartered or officially recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purpose of preparation, presentation and prosecution of Veteran’s claims only.
Part V: Listing of two organizations of state Intergovernmental Affairs.
National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, National Association of County Veteran Services Officers, which lists the 55 states and territory Veteran Affairs Departments, Divisions, and Commissions.
Listing of State Veterans Affairs organizations recognized by the Secretary for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims under laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, as provided in Section 5902 (formerly Section 3402) of Title 38, United States Code (U.S.C.) and Sub Section 14.628(a) and (c) of 38 C.F.R. (C): State Directors of Veterans Affairs
Although I recommend you call your county VSO and setup an appointment, you can also set up an accredited representative or a VSO to work on your behalf by contacting the VA using one of the following three methods.
- Use eBenefits to let us know you’ll be working with a representative or to change your current representation.
- To have a VSO help you, fill out an Appointment of Veterans Service Organization as Claimant’s Representative (VA Form 21-22). Download VA Form 21-22 (PDF) at https://bit.ly/3gGOUh8.
- To have a claims agent or attorney help you, fill out an Appointment of Individual as Claimant’s Representative (VA Form 21-22a). Download VA Form 21-22a (PDF) at https://bit.ly/3rIHNLw.
If you’re filling out one of the forms, you’ll need to mail it to your nearest VA regional office. You should speak to the service organization or certified representative before you send your request.
Below are the phone numbers and email addresses of other S.C. and Ga. county VSOs in The Island News footprint.
The Beaufort County Veterans Service Office is located at 100 Clear Water Way, Beaufort, S.C. 29906, The phone no. is 843-255-6880, and the fax no. is 843-255-9445. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday, by appointment only. The website is https://bit.ly/3uKeZUQ.
Colleton Co.: Janet D. Smith, 843-549-1412, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charleston Co.: David J. LeBlanc, Sr., 843-974-6360, email@example.com.
Hampton Co.: Sharon Johnson, 803-914-2085/2087, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dorchester Co.: Johnny K. Brown, 843-832-0050, JKBrown@dorchestercountysc.gov.
Jasper Co.: Alton Jenkins, 843-726-7727, email@example.com.
Berkeley Co.: Jan Helton, 843-377-8506, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chatham County, Ga.: Reggie Louis, 912-920-0214, Ext. 2194, email@example.com, 1170 Shawnee Street, Savannah, Ga. 31419.
Liberty County & Hinesville, Ga.: Charles Isaac, 912-408-2948, firstname.lastname@example.org, 500 East Oglethorpe Highway, Hinesville, Ga. 31313.
Please share this information with military members, veterans, and their families and survivors.
Larry Dandridge is a retired Lt. Col. In the U.S. Army. He is a Vietnam War era wounded warrior, a combat and 100 percent disabled veteran, a former Infantryman, former Warrant Officer and pilot. Dandridge is also a past Veterans Service Officer, and a current volunteer Patient Adviser, CEO Advisory Council Member, and Patient and Family Advisory Committee Member at the RHJ VA Medical Center, as well as a published author and freelance writer. He can be reached at LDandridge@earthlink.net.