Dave Abbot

Dave Abbot (Charlie Reed / Stripes)

Dave Abbot is the new Department of Veterans Affairs representative in the U.K. A Vietnam vet himself, Abbot offers assistance through the bases’ Family Readiness centers and is trying to reach out to servicemembers and retirees in the area.

As a veteran, what kind of insight do you bring to the position?

It gives me an understanding of where folks are coming from, especially those that have come from downrange and have disabilities and are uncomfortable about certain situations.

Are servicemembers who do not retire from the military still considered veterans?

Oh yes, anyone who has separated from active duty is a veteran.

What is the most important thing servicemembers and retirees should know about the VA?

The first thing they need to know is that if there is anything that has occurred to them during their active duty — physically, emotionally, whatever — that they should apply for benefits. Service-connected disability is any disease or injury that has incurred or been aggravated while in the service. It doesn’t matter whether they were home, as long as it’s during the period they were in active duty. … Is there a loss of hearing? Back pain or a knee joint injury? … If they’ve been on the flight line or in an artillery unit, there’s probably an issue regarding hearing. They need to think about those things because they may not consider them disabilities. But they should be applying to the VA for compensation.

What stops most vets from making disability claims?

People look at disability in a certain light. And if you say, “I’m disabled,” it has a tendency to have a negative connotation, but that’s not the way a person needs to be thinking. Most people don’t consider a scar a disability. I’ve got shrapnel still in my back from Vietnam. We don’t consider those disabilities by the social definition of the word, but they are according to the VA.

How do you help vets overcome that negative connotation?

I really talk about compensation to try to eliminate that whole perception.

How difficult is it to prove a service-related disability?

The key is, is it in your service medical records? We encourage all servicemembers before they are discharged to make sure it’s in their service medical record. Especially talking to airmen, there are many that want to remain qualified to remain in the sky flying, and so they may intentionally not expose the fact that they’re having an issue so that they can remain qualified.

What should an airman in that situation do when he or she is leaving the service?

You gotta spill the beans before you’re discharged. You’ve got to get it in your records. There is another factor and that is the time from discharge to the time you have applied for the benefit. The quicker you get treatment, the easier it is to associate even if something is not in the records.

So the longer you wait to apply for benefits the more difficult they are to garner?

Yes. But it’s not to say that it’s impossible, especially if there’s a clear diagnosis in service and it may be after separation of service there may have been additional treatment than can show continuity. But I encourage these men and woman that within the first 12 months, if not immediately, they should take care of this issue and get their issues documented.

If you’ve got a question for Dave Abbot or want to set up an appointment, call the Family Readiness Center at RAF Lakenheath at DSN 226-3847 or 01638 52 3847. You also can check out the VA’s Web site for more information.

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