A Department Service Officer with the Disabled American Veterans Association visited Homer in hopes of touching base with local vets who need help accessing benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He says Service Officers are a powerful go between veterans can turn to when they don’t know how to move forward. KBBI’s Quinton Chandler has more.
Kipp Keller spent a full day at the Homer Job Center waiting to help veterans who might be stumped by the complexities rolled into applying for VA benefits.
"Navigating the VA system can be a complicated thing. As service officers it’s our job to know what the VA looks for and help the veteran filing the paperwork. [We’re] telling him what evidence he needs to gather and then helping the veteran track that paperwork all the way through until it’s adjudicated," says Keller.
Keller says most veterans he sees are looking to receive compensation for injuries or disabilities sustained during their military service. He can also help vets explore access to a wealth of resources provided by the VA like home loans and higher education opportunities. Keller’s office is based in Anchorage but he also travels across the state to reach veterans in Alaska’s more isolated communities.
"I personally in 2014 saw just over 2000 vets. Out of the 72,000 vets that they say are in Alaska right now probably last year between all the service organizations over 30,000 vets were taken care of," says Keller.
His day in Homer wasn’t one of the more successful trips. By one in the afternoon Keller hadn’t seen a single veteran. He says sometimes that’s just how it turns out. It might just be a bad day. People might be out of town fishing or maybe word of his arrival didn’t reach the right ears.
"They try to get the word out by sending flyers, using public broadcasting. I try to get the word out at least thirty days ahead,” says Keller.
Keller adds that of course there are also a number of vets who don’t approach him because they just don’t know what kind of help he can offer.
"There are a lot of veterans, especially when we start looking at the older Vietnam era veterans, they don’t know what’s available to them. I would definitely encourage any veteran to contact one of the service officers or one of the service organizations to look at what they might be missing out on," says Keller
Keller adds that he is a veteran himself and he’s been in the same shoes as the men and women he tries to help. Plus every year he must be re-certified in order to do his job and the training helps him stay up to date on changes within the VA.
"So we’re kind of unique in that we know it from both sides of the house. So we kind of can see it from both ends, the veterans’ side and the VA’s side," says Keller.
DAV Department Service Officers make several trips to Homer each year.