NORMAN — This week, we are recognizing a husband and wife team who spend many of their Thursday mornings volunteering at the Goldsby Community Center. Marilyn and Steve Higgins have been with us for several years helping veterans and surviving spouses receive VA benefits they are entitled to receive.
Marilyn has worn many hats since she joined the organization, serving as the person who researches prior decisions made by the Board of Veterans Appeals. She also assists surviving spouses with their claims for DIC or pension benefits. Steve takes care of the donations that are made by the men and women we assist each week.
Last week, 90 men and women braved the cold to make the trip to Goldsby for assistance from volunteers. Of that number, 15 were veterans, both male and female, who filed their first claims for VA benefits.
Many of the veterans and surviving spouses are filing what is called an “informal claim for benefits.” This is used to give the person filing the claim a start date while they are obtaining evidence and documentation, such as a DBQ, in support of their informal claim.
They will have up to a year to complete their claim forms. By doing this when their claim is approved, their compensation will be paid back one month after the filing date. The VA compensation is just like many employers; they always keep you a month behind on your wages. With the new VA forms that are now available, the time it takes for the VA to make a decision should be shortened to 180 days or less.
For those veterans who have Internet access, I urge you to log in to the VA website to set up a premium account on e-Benefits. This will enable you to upload evidence and check on the status of claims.
Under the new system, the veteran should ask their doctor to fill out a VA Disability Benefits Questionnaire on their disability before filing for compensation. These DBQ are available at Veterans Corner or at the VA website, va.gov, by clicking on forms.
Many of the disabilities that a veteran has may be approved for service connection by using the DBQ forms. Certain conditions, such as hearing loss and PTSD, will continue to require an evaluation by VA or their contractor QTC services.
Last Thursday, five veterans were recently awarded a 100 percent rating. One of these wanted to say a few words of encouragement to those who were just starting the VA claims process. I listened to him make his first public speech from his wheelchair, telling all of those in attendance to never stop believing what volunteers could do for them.
Most of the men and women who visit with us don’t know that they are helping many of us just as much as we are helping them. Volunteering is the best therapy I have ever had since returning from Vietnam.
Fifteen surviving spouses were seen by Shirley and her crew of ladies who were filing for DIC or pension benefits. These ladies also have the option to use the new VA claims forms that will speed up the processing time it takes for a decision on their claims.
Some of the ladies they have helped are receiving a decision in 30 to 60 days, if all of the evidence is submitted the first time. Shirley is available at 361-9322 or each Thursday morning at the Goldsby Community Center.
I have been in contact with Dr. Juanita Celie, LCSW, BCD, at the Oklahoma City VA Mental Health Clinic (Suicide Prevention Program), who will make one trip each month to the Veterans Corner in Goldsby. She provides information packets to veterans and family members who need assistance.
The Goldsby Veterans Memorial is filled with bricks with veterans names along the Walk of Honor. If you would like to purchase a brick for the veteran in your life, stop by Thursday to get one in the works.
Harold Harvell, JD Kinard and Riley Phillips are available each Thursday to assist you with the purchase of your brick, military hat or a copy of “One Hundred Stories from Veterans Corner,” by Dr. Kami Day. Harvell can be reached at 596-8755.
For those who need food items, Sid Smith has food boxes prepared each Thursday for anyone who needs this assistance.
We have three vans that are used to transport veterans to their VA appointments. Clayton Lee, of Dibble, can be reached at 684-8860. Howard Martin, of Norman, who drives the wheelchair-accessible van, can be reached at 227-3239.
For questions about veterans’ benefits, we are at the Goldsby Community Center each Thursday. Our doors open at 7 a.m., and sign-in sheets are available at 5:30 a.m.
Take time to visit veteranscorner.org. Donations for the benevolence fund may be sent to Veterans Corner, P.O. Box 704, Washington, OK 73093. Donations for the Building Fund may be sent to Veterans Corner, c/o Dale Graham, P.O. Box 722160, Norman, OK 73070.
You can call me at 550-8806 or email email@example.com.
Dale K. Graham is the Veterans Corner service officer.
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