Military Update: Too many veterans leave service unaware of benefits

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* From Military Update at the Shreveport Times *

Despite billions of additional dollars pumped into veterans benefits in recent years, many military personnel still leave service unaware of their VA benefits or of programs set up to help them transition to civilian life, a senior Defense official and veteran advocates testified Wednesday.

Noel C. Koch, deputy undersecretary of defense for wounded warrior care and transition policy, said he has visited many military hospitals and interviewed “hundreds” of service members, many recovering from wounds.

“Its a constant source of partly amazement and partly disappointment at how little aware they are” of benefits and programs to help them either return to full duty or smooth their path into veteran status.

Communication “seems to be the entire issue,” Koch explained. Despite a lot of work being done to address this gap, the government fails to communicate effectively with departing members, particularly younger ones.

“This is partly a generational issue,” Koch told the House veterans affairs subcommittee on disability assistance. Young veterans “dont communicate the way people my age communicate. They dont refer to these thick manuals we put out that are just chock full of information, which nobody reads. Even Web sites are becoming somewhat antiquated in the eyes of some of our younger service members.”

As a result, Koch said, the Defense Department and services “are moving into social media” such as Facebook and Twitter to try to break through to departing members about their VA benefits.

Thomas Tarantino, director of government affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, agreed that benefits information is not reaching many service members before they separate.

“When I left the Army in 2007, I had absolutely no idea of the scope and availability of the benefits I was entitled to as a veteran. In fact, it never even occurred to me to seek benefits in health care from [VA] just for the general wear and tear of a decade of military service. If it werent for an old sergeant major who was attending the Army Civilian Alumni Program with me, I would have never even applied.”

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