As the East Lyme Veterans Representative, people often ask “How can I help veterans?” I hear a lot about the problems with veteran care but I don’t hear enough about the specific answers or solutions. The number one issue is that veterans need to be aware of the benefits and services available. I can’t reach all veterans, especially those that need the benefits the most. I need help getting the information about benefits to veterans. This is a list of facts that veterans, spouses, caregivers and advocates need to know in order to help veterans get the benefits they deserve. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

#1: “Thank You for Your Service!”
This salutation has become quite commonplace and is very much appreciated by today’s veterans. But often, this salutation alone doesn’t do enough for the veterans who were promised benefits. It feels good, but doesn’t have any long-term benefit for the veteran. It does not address the benefits and programs that are available from the Federal (VA) and State (Dept. of Veterans Affairs). It does not provide a link to the non-profit organizations that are specifically designed to help veterans. Every veteran needs to research their benefit status and register for the programs for which they qualify.

So, the next time you thank a veteran for their service, ask if they are getting the benefits they were promised. Hopefully, this will cause the veteran to stop and think “What benefits?” or “How do I sign up for veteran benefits?” You can be part of the answer by encouraging veterans to register and be “in the system”. This will be the first step in helping all veterans get the benefits they have been promised.

#2 DD-214
Every veteran receives a DD-214 when they are discharged from active duty. This is an important document that every veteran may need sooner or later. The DD-214 should be filed in the Town Hall where the veteran lives. There are many benefits to doing this. First, this will provide the veteran with a reduction in their residential property or vehicle taxes. This reduction is increased if the veteran receives VA disability compensation. Second, having the DD-214 available on file will be a convenience for the veteran because a copy will be readily available, even if the original has been lost. This is important later in life when the veteran needs additional benefits. Additionally, it will provide each town and the state with an accurate count of veterans in each town. This will give weight to veteran issues when legislation and decisions are drafted.

#3 Tinnitus
Every veteran needs to register with the VA. This opens many doors to benefits and updated information for the veteran. One of the best methods to register with the VA is to apply for tinnitus compensation. This type of hearing loss is generally caused by noise exposure, age or both. Over 1.7 million veterans receive compensation for tinnitus and 1.1 million veterans receive compensation for hearing loss. Hearing loss is one of the top service-connected disabilities among Veterans. Most of the hearing loss among veterans is a result of the exposure to gunfire, aircraft, tanks and bombs. One of the first symptoms that a person with hearing loss notices is difficulty distinguishing sounds or understanding speech.

The veteran needs to start a claim for tinnitus by contacting Jeannie Gardiner, the Eastern Connecticut Veterans Service Officer, at (860) 887-9162. It takes about a year or more to receive the compensation money. This is tax-free monthly payment about $150 with inflation adjustable. The 10% disability rating can be applied to property tax deduction at Town Hall. (See How Can I Help Veterans, Fact 2 DD-214 above).

This also gives the veteran a service-connected disability. A service- connected disability gives the veteran many more benefits, such as access to commissary and military exchanges and many other veteran discounts. The veteran will receive a VA card with the service-connected disability noted.

Another very important reason to register with the VA is to be counted. This is how lobbyists in Washington protect veterans. The more veterans that are documented, the louder the veteran voice will be.

Once in the VA health care system, the veteran will have access to hearing aids and other VA services and benefits. Please do not delay. The clock starts with the date of the “Letter Of Intent to File”. This means the payment will be back dated to the date the letter was filed, not approved.

The VA now offers Community Care. With Community Care, you don’t need to go to a VA facility for every medical issue. The VA will pay for Doctor visits, medicine and other needs outside the VA health care system.

This is one of the more important information items to pass on. More veterans need to be aware of these benefits and share this information with every veteran.

#4 Veterans Mobile App
Connecticut Department of Veteran Affairs has a great app that can be used as a starting point for information that can be shared. Go to the App Store and search for “CT VETERANS”. This is a free app and a must for veterans, spouses, caregivers and anyone who is interested in helping veterans and their families. The top button is for Crisis Assistance, a hot line for suicide prevention. The lower button, Veterans Resources, is where information can be found about Benefits and Services both Federal VA and State Department of Veteran Affairs, Healthcare, Housing, Business and Jobs, Support a Veteran and Flag Status. This app contains too much information to list here. Download the app, explore and learn what it has to offer. Then share it with a friend or family member. It is great to have this information available so quickly on your smart phone.

#5 East Lyme Coffeehouse
The East Lyme Coffeehouse is held from 6:00PM to 8:00PM on the second Wednesday of every month at the VFW Post 5849, 39 Columbus Ave. in Niantic. Guest speakers address topics of interest to veterans of all ages. The guest speakers are highly informative and share information important to all veterans. This has turned out to be a very good method to get information to veterans. The fellowship of veterans getting together to talk about veterans’ issues has come to be very valuable for all who have been attending.

While the East Lyme Coffeehouse is the only one in the region held in the evening, there are other coffeehouses that are held during the day throughout the southeastern Connecticut region and sponsored by the Thames Valley Council for Community Action. James Hodge is the TVCCA Coffeehouse Coordinator and he can be reached at (860) 425-6615. Jim Reid is the Coordinator for the Waterford Coffeehouse. He can be reached at (860) 961-0634. Coffeehouses are always looking for speakers and program ideas, as well as volunteers to set up and clean up. All are welcome to volunteer.

#6 Organizations Helping Veterans
It is important for veterans to find an organization that represents veterans and works to help veterans. These organizations provide veterans the chance to share experiences, feelings and goals with other veterans. Together, their voices provide the strength that is needed to get action on issues on the state and federal level. Below is a partial list of some of the local veteran organizations:

1. VFW (860) 616-2363
2. American Legion (860) 439-9986
3. Amvets (860) 753-6399
4. Disabled American Vets (860) 440-4440
5. Vietnam Veterans of America (860) 568-9212
6. Subvets (860) 445-5262
7. Marine Corps League (860) 843-1244

There are many more organizations and non-profits that help veterans in general and under special circumstances. These organizations accept donations and use their funding to pay expenses. Volunteers are always welcome. Donating your time or resources can result in a personal reward as you realize you are helping veterans. You can donate to an organization by reviewing the How to Donate Wisely and Avoid Charity Scams web page.

#7 Non-Profits
There are a variety of non-profit organizations that provide direct assistance to veterans.

Local Veterans Assistance Non-Profit Organizations

All of these non-profits are always looking for volunteers and donations. Other services for veterans cover visitation, transportation, emotional comfort, counseling and job training. Non-profits often provide an opportunity for those who need comfort to be comforted by those who are interested in the well-being of our veterans.

#8 In Remembrance of a veteran
Veterans are honored to know that their service is appreciated. When we stop and greet a veteran with “Thank you for your service”, it is appreciated but is not long lasting. There are two programs in the area that do provide a more lasting remembrance of a veteran and his service.

Several communities have programs where bricks are purchased and then engraved with the names of a veteran, the dates of their service and the branch in which they served. The bricks are then used to construct a path in the community so that the veteran and his or her service can be remembered. Here are some contact names and numbers in some of our local communities:

  • East Lyme contact Tim Yuhas (860) 884-0694
  • New London (860) 440-6691
  • Norwich Easter Seals Veterans Rally Point (860) 859-4148, Ext 1
  • Andover (860) 982-3944

There may be other towns that offer veterans bricks. Try calling your town office to ask if your town has a veteran’s brick program.

Another way to give veterans a long-lasting tribute is to record their story. Every veteran has a story about what they did, how they felt and why they did it. The Library of Congress has started a program to preserve veteran stories for future generations. There is a set of questions to ask with specific ideas for recording a veteran’s experiences and directions for submitting the packet. This is a great history project for schools, students and relatives who want to know what a veteran did in service to our country and preserve this important experience. The VA now has a collection of veteran stories.  A veteran is proud of his service. A wall plaque with his military information is a wonderful way to honor the veteran for their service. For more information, see Together We Served.

#9 Be an Advocate for Veterans
Veterans and veteran issues need advocates in our legislative process. There are many bills that need to be passed so that the livelihood and comfort of our veterans can be improved. You can be an advocate for veterans and veteran issues by contacting your federal and state senators and representatives and expressing your support for bills being considered. The more people that reach out and communicate with their legislators, the stronger the message.
At the present time there are several bills that need to be passed and you might consider:

  1. Federal SB117-37 Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemember Therapy Act. This bill provides funds for training service dogs for PTSD veterans but accessing these funds is still a mystery.
  2. Connecticut SB 338 An Act Concerning A Study Of Municipal Veterans Services
  3. Connecticut Public Act 12-208 Aid & Attendance. This bill deals with reimbursement related to health benefits that the federal government considers additional income. This added income often puts a veteran over the limit for them to receive state benefits.
  4. Connecticut State Veterans Bills There are many more bills and issues that need a united voice to help veterans today and in the future. We need to make sure those who have served will serve with be taken care of.

#10 Your Attendance Counts!
You can show your interest and support for veterans by participating in any number of activities in your community throughout the year. There are breakfasts and suppers, parades and ceremonies, poppy sales and vigils that are sponsored by or for veterans that need your attendance and participation. Speaking from experience, I know how heartwarming it feels to have a good turnout for the parade or the Veterans Day Ceremony. Veterans see how many people support them by your attendance

The East Lyme Veterans Representative posts and shares veteran events on the NextDoor website. Information and events can also be found in the Connecticut Veterans Bulletin Facebok group.

If you have a question, please don’t hesitate to call the East Lyme Veterans Representative.

Hopefully, these ten ideas about how you can help a veteran have been helpful to you. Please share them with your family and friends. The purpose is to get the information to those who need it. This information doesn’t do any good if it’s just stored in a file somewhere, so please pass it along.

God bless America. God bless those who have served, are serving now, and who will serve in the future to protect the freedoms we enjoy today.