FRANKFORT – One of the ongoing challenges our country faces is making sure our veterans receive the full benefits they have rightfully earned.
Unfortunately, as we discovered during a legislative meeting earlier this month, there are still some who are either unaware of what is available or who have become mired in bureaucracy. The good news is that, thanks to the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA), we are making great strides in closing these twin gaps.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo brought this issue to the forefront when he invited Bluford “Buddy” Smith to testify about the problems he has been experiencing. Mr. Smith is a 92-year-old Floyd County resident who has compiled a considerable amount of evidence showing that he served in Europe during WWII.
A 1973 St. Louis fire that destroyed millions of records, however, has made it difficult to convince the federal government of that fact. As a result, he said he has taken on thousands of dollars of debt to pay for medical treatment and has been denied pension benefits he said he has earned.
KDVA Commissioner Heather French Henry said her agency is working to make sure stories like this do not happen. Kentucky has 311,000 veterans, and many either take on the task of filing claims themselves or paying someone to do it for them.
Neither is necessary, she said, because KDVA has staff across Kentucky that is trained to do this work, plus any appeals, for free.
Kentucky, in fact, just became the first state to electronically file benefit claims directly to the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Just like filing taxes online, this approach should speed response time considerably.
If you are or know of a veteran who needs help getting benefits or services, please call KDVA at 502-595-4447, or 800-928-4012, or by going to KDVA’s website at www.veterans.ky.gov and clicking on “Benefits.” Once there, click on “Your Benefits Representative” to find the phone number and email address of the field representative who serves the veteran’s county.
Many veterans may mistakenly believe their service is not relevant, especially if it occurred decades earlier. If they are having medical or financial issues, though, it certainly does not hurt to check eligibility for programs that may help.
KDVA is also an important resource for veterans in other ways. It is both an advocate for their cause and a clearing house of information on employment, education and healthcare. In addition, it plays a leading role in such initiatives as the current “Year of the Woman Veteran,” which is promoting the 24,000 women here in Kentucky who were in the military.
Kentucky, of course, has a deeper awareness of these issues because so many veterans live here, especially in the areas around Fort Knox and Fort Campbell. Nevertheless, there is always the possibility that some of our local veterans are like Buddy Smith. My hope is that, as our outreach efforts continue, we can find, and then help, them all. No veteran should have to carry this type of burden alone.
If there is any way I can be of help in this regard, please let me know. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at [email protected].
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.