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Free benefits help on the way for local vets

Mobile office will arrive in Springfield to help speed up veterans’ claims.

Local veterans who have questions about their benefits will be able to get answers next week when the Disabled American Veterans’ mobile service office rolls into town.

The DAV vehicle carrying national service officers will make its first stop in Springfield from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday at DAV Chapter 13, 2410 Mechanicsburg Road.

Veterans will be assisted with the development of evidence and the completion of applications needed to obtain benefits, including disability compensation.

“All they need to do is show up,” said Gary Heironimus, adjutant for the DAV chapter in Clark County. “Hopefully, we can get quite a few people.”

Last year alone, the mobile service office logged more than 108,000 miles, visiting 878 cities and towns. Service officers interviewed 17,352 veterans and potential claimants in 2012, according to Alice J. Bersch, administrative secretary at DAV national headquarters in Cold Spring, Ky.

With the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mired in a massive claims backlog, it’s likely that veterans have more questions than ever about benefits.

“Sometimes,” Heironimus said, “they call the post directly. They’ll say, ‘My name’s so-and-so and I’ve got this problem. What can I do?’ A lot of times, we don’t know.”

Along with the American Legion, DAV entered into a new partnership last month with the VA to help reduce the claims backlog by getting veterans to file what’s known as a “fully developed claim.” A fully developed claim is one in which a veteran submits all available supporting evidence — such as treatment records — at the time of filing.

The VA says it can process those fully developed claims in half the time of traditionally filed claims.

As part of the department’s effort to end the backlog in 2015 and to start processing claims within 125 days, the VA also announced mandatory overtime for claims processors at its 56 regional benefits offices through the end of the fiscal year.

Heironimus, 48, knows firsthand how frustrating it is to wait on the VA.

“I’ve got a claim myself in, and it’s going on two years,” he said.

The lifelong Springfield resident has been waiting all that time just to find out if he’s been approved to receive a higher percentage of disability compensation.

Heironimus served as an active-duty vehicle mechanic with the Ohio Air National Guard’s 178th Fighter Wing for close to 23 years before being medically discharged in 2009 with leg problems. Even after two operations to his tibia, Heironimus’ hips and knees are suffering from not being able to walk properly.

“It’s frustrating,” he said, “but right now, the only thing we can do is voice our opinion.”

He said he contacted U.S. Rep. John Boehner’s office for help with his claim, which doesn’t give him much hope that the VA will be able to end the backlog just two years from now.

“When I have to go to my local congressman for help, it’s kind of bleak,” Heironimus said.

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