Applying for veterans benefits can be a complex and confusing process, and many service members and veterans may not know how to navigate the process — or even get started.
The Benefits Service program at Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) can help. The WWP Benefits team works to ensure warriors and family support members receive the benefits they have earned in a manner that honors their service.
Post-9/11 wounded veterans can take advantage of the skill and knowledge our national service officers can provide, easing the navigation process with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). WWP is a VA-accredited veterans service organization (VSO), which means it is recognized by the VA as a reputable source to submit claims on a veteran’s behalf at no cost to the veteran.
Having the assistance of a VSO like WWP can give warriors peace of mind throughout the process of applying for benefits. While there can never be a guarantee of benefits, knowing what information is needed and the best way to present it can go a long way toward approval and avoiding the lengthy appeals process, which is something WWP can help with, as well.
Mike Stoddard, national service director for WWP’s Benefits Service program, wants service members to know they don’t have to wait until they leave the service to start the benefits process.
“The No. 1 thing I’d ask warriors to do is prepare early,” Stoddard said.
For the VA to consider a disability claim, service members or veterans must show their medical issue is service connected. Stoddard said that’s why it’s important to maintain documentation early, including medical records or “buddy statements,” which is a letter from someone with firsthand/eyewitness knowledge of the disability or injury.
“The biggest thing that I want our warriors to know is this is the one time in their life, where I would say be as selfish as you can be,” Stoddard said. “You're not taking away benefits from anybody else.”
Obtaining military medical records and buddy statements is the first step, but many veterans don’t know how to proceed after. The assistance of a VSO can make all the difference in not only helping veterans get the benefits they deserve but guiding warriors throughout the process.
“I think that's one of the great things about having an advocate like Wounded Warrior Project to help is because they can actually sit down with you and look through all of that evidence and tell you, ‘Here’s what we've got and what we need to move forward,’” said Michael Snook, WWP regional benefits director.
One of the biggest reasons to leverage a VA-accredited VSO is to have continuous support from knowledgeable experts — and it’s completely free.
“It's not an easy process, so you have somebody that you can connect with to answer questions who understands the process,” Stoddard said. “It’s our job, from a VSO/Wounded Warrior Project standpoint, to ensure our warriors get the benefits they've earned in a manner that honors their service.”
One of the most common topics wounded veterans ask about is disability ratings, and how to change them. That’s often because initially evaluated, service-connected conditions could worsen over time and/or become chronic, which would necessitate a re-evaluation by the VA. WWP can help with that as well.
“Because your journey continues on throughout the rest of your life, we can continue to help you with those claims as they come up,” Snook said.
Other reasons for a change in disability ratings may be that a new condition has manifested itself relative to a condition already being compensated, or a veteran acquires additional documentation regarding the severity of the initial condition their rating was based on.
“If you feel that you are misrepresented or if you feel like there's a gap in information, then come see us,” Stoddard said. “It may or may not result in an increase, but the reality is, we can make sure that you get the benefits you earned.”
Sometimes veterans are denied disability benefits because of incomplete records or other issues in the application process, and not because they don’t qualify. Appealing a denial of benefits or increases is another often-confusing process the WWP Benefits Team can help warriors maneuver.
“The appeals process is daunting for a lot of people, and we have experts who have 10, 15, 20 years of experience in this business,” Snook said. “They can really break it down and simplify a lot of those processes for anyone to understand.”
Overall, the most important thing the WWP Benefits Service program wants warriors to know is that they don’t have to go through this process alone.
“Sometimes it's better to find somebody who can help you through the process, so don't do it alone,” Stoddard said. “That would be my No. 1 one advice, because you're not in this alone. You’ve got plenty of partners and advocates who are willing to help you.”
Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, email@example.com, 904.570.7910
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.