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Reservist/VA employee explains veterans' benefit options

DUKE FIELD, Fla. -- Military members are eligible for Veterans Administration benefits up to five years after their last deployments.

That is just one of the many benefits and privileges many Airmen do not know is available to them, according to Maj. William Hill, the 919th Special Operations Wing's traditional reservist psychologist and VA employee.

Hill said he wanted to pass along this information to the Airmen of the 919th SOW on the chance that it would help just one Citizen Commando.

Vet Center

The Vet Center is a VA-managed mental health center for anyone deployed in a combat operation or who has sexually harassed assaulted while in the military.
The care provided there is free of charge and provided for the life of military members and veterans.

"This is a great option for anyone dealing with difficult situations to get help," said the major.

There are Vet Center locations in Shalimar, Pensacola and Panama City and many others in surrounding states.

VA

The VA provides counseling for any military member who experienced sexual trauma during their time in service, regardless of whether the veteran receives VA medical care.
The VA also provides five years of free medical coverage following a combat deployment.
"Make sure the deployment appears on the DD214," said Hill. Once you get the DD214, take it to the local VA clinic to get registered. You may not ever use it or need it, but at least you are already in the system if the need arises."

The enrollment process only takes about 15 minutes, according to Hill.

It is highly recommended for veterans to have a copy of their military medical records as well.

Health insurance

If veterans receive medical care through the VA, but do not have health insurance, they are considered to have coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The VA counts as health insurance under the new Act, according to Hill.

Filing a claim

Hill strongly recommends getting help from a veteran service officer when filing a VA claim. They can be found/reached through the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans offices.

"Trying to file a claim yourself could only slow down the process and possibly harm your efforts to get approved for benefits," said Hill. "Use these people who are filing these claims all the time instead of trying to do it yourself."

Misconceptions

Hill said the most common misconception with reservists and veterans are that they are not eligible for VA benefits. The only way to know for sure is to ask and educate yourself about the benefits and programs that are out there.

"When I left active duty, I didn't know I was eligible," said Hill. I didn't learn what I qualified for until I came to work for the VA."