Who can help me file a claim for State and Federal Veteran benefits?

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By LARRY DANDRIDGE 


Last week we talked about how important it is for veterans to keep records of their injuries, wounds, and contaminations. 

This week’s article provides information on the organizations who can help veterans to determine what their veterans’ benefits are and help file a claim for those benefits.

You can read about the Federal benefits for veterans online at www.va.gov and in the latest edition of the US Department of Veteran Affairs Handbook, Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents, and Survivors. VA benefits include health, financial assistance, housing, employment, education, and memorialization. 

Downloading and reading the free VA Welcome Kit at file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/_files_2020-11_va-welcome-kit-bw.pdf is great way to learn about how the VA can support Veterans and their loved ones. 

SC offers many benefits for its military service members, veterans, and eligible family members. Eligibility for some benefits may depend on residency, military component, and veteran disability status. Those benefits include: tax exemptions, employment, education, parking fee exemptions, license privileges, nursing homes, and state flag. 

You can read all about SC State Veterans’ benefits at: https://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil/Benefit-Library/State/Territory-Benefits/South-Carolina 

The filing of a claim with the state, VA, or military service for benefits earned through military service can be complex and confusing. Therefore, it is wise to use an expert to help you with your claim. You should work with an accredited attorney, claims agent, or Veterans Service Officer (VSO). The Department of VA trust these accredited professionals because they’re trained in the VA claims and appeals processes. 

A good source for free help is a Veteran Service Officer (VSO). VSOs in SC are trained by the state of SC, the VA, and organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. (VFW). County and state VSO services are FREE. 

In most cases, there is no need to use experts who charge fees. In general, no individual may charge you a fee to help you file your initial application for benefits. Make sure you ask up front what, if any, fees you’ll be charged. 

You may think that VSOs are only found in organizations like the American Legion, Marine Corps League, and other such organizations. However, all states have VSOs as well. The Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs publishes a Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) Directory at https://www.va.gov/vso/.

Some VSOs are chartered and approved by the VA Secretary and some are non-chartered. Individuals seeking representation can rely on information found in the Office of General Counsel (OGC) Search for Accredited Attorneys, Claims Agents, or Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) Representatives website at https://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp to find a VSO.

It is best to use a VSO because they need 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. Also, recognized organizations and individuals can legally represent a Veteran, service member, dependent, or survivor before the VA. Non-recognized organizations and individuals can provide information, but cannot be representatives. Accredited representatives and VSOs can help file a claim or appeal on your behalf. 

There is a State of SC Veterans Service Office in every SC county. See a list of SC County Veterans Service Offices at https://scdva.sc.gov/county-veterans-affairs-offices. 

Here is the contact information for some of the Lowcountry SC County Veteran Service Offices (VSOs):

Beaufort County VSO, 1905 Duke Street, Beaufort, SC 29902, Phone 843-255-6880, Office Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00 AM-5:00 PM. Carl Wedler is the Director and the office email is Beaufort@scdva.sc.gov.

Jasper County VSO, P.O. Box 1536, Ridgeland S.C. 29936, 651 Grays Hwy. Ridgeland SC 29936, Phone: 843 726-7727, Fax: 843 726-7617, Office Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00AM-5:00 PM. Jermaine Ballenger is the Director and the office email is Jasper@scdva.sc.gov.

Colleton County VSO, 219 S. Lemacks Street, Suite 124, Bernard Warshaw Complex (Health Department), P.O. Box 637, Walterboro, SC 29488, Phone: 843-549-1412, Fax: 843- 549-0132, Office Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00AM-5:00 PM. Janet D. Smith is the Director and the office email is cvao@colletoncounty.org and Colleton@scdva.sc.gov.

Charleston County VSO, Lonnie Hamilton III, Public Services Building, Suite B-154 (First Floor), 4045 Bridge View Drive, North Charleston, SC 29405, Phone: (843)974-6360, Fax: 843-745-2354, Office Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00 AM- 4:00 PM, Website: https://www.charlestoncounty.org/departments/veterans-affairs/. David J. LeBlanc, Sr is the Director and the office email is listed as Charleston@scdva.sc.gov and vaoffice@charlestoncounty.org.

One last thing. It is a good idea to call the Veterans Service Office you decide to use and make an appointment before going to the office. That way, the VSO can schedule your visit, tell you what you need to bring with you, provide other important advance information, and prepare to help you. 

Larry Dandridge is a Vietnam era wounded warrior, a combat 100% disabled veteran, an ex-Enlisted Infantryman, an Ex-Warrant Officer Attack Helicopter Pilot and Test-pilot, and a retired Lt. Colonel. He is a Veterans Service Officer, volunteer Patient Adviser and CEO Advisory Council Member at the RHJ VA Medical Center; the Fisher House Charleston volunteer Good Will Ambassador; the VP for Veteran and Retiree Affairs for the Coastal Carolina Army Association Chapter; the Author of the award winning BLADES OF THUNDER (Book One), and contributing writer with the Island News. You can email him at: LDandridge@earthlink.net

Larry Dandridge is a Vietnam era wounded warrior, a combat 100% disabled veteran, an ex-Enlisted Infantryman, an Ex-Warrant Officer Attack Helicopter Pilot and Test-pilot, and a retired Lt. Colonel. He is a Veterans Service Officer, volunteer Patient Adviser and CEO Advisory Council Member at the RHJ VA Medical Center; the Fisher House Charleston volunteer Good Will Ambassador; the VP for Veteran and Retiree Affairs for the Coastal Carolina Army Association Chapter; the Author of the award winning BLADES OF THUNDER (Book One), and contributing writer with the Island News. You can email him at: LDandridge@earthlink.net