VA aims to increase awareness of benefits
Stars and Stripes March 4, 2008
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — It didn’t seem serious when Petty Officer 2nd Class Wesley Matthews twisted his knee in an animal hole about two years ago during a nighttime field exercise.
But as Matthews faces the end of his U.S. Navy service in April, the knee injury and a civilian future are on his mind.
“I twisted up my knee and it might go bad down the road,” he said.
For a veteran, a service-related knee injury could mean years of paid schooling and medical care if it qualifies for benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the agency.
The VA is trying to get the word out through increased manpower in Japan this year and trying to connect with servicemembers such as Matthews who might be eligible for benefits.
Three representatives will work through the fall at bases in mainland Japan and on Okinawa to educate servicemembers on vocational training for the disabled, education funding and medical care, according to Frank Brown, the Veterans Affairs representative for Sasebo and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
In the past, VA reps were not staffed throughout the year due to funding constraints, Brown said.
A group of servicemembers gathered Thursday in Sasebo to hear Brown’s lecture on the Disability Transition Assistance Program, a VA service that focuses on troops who are medically discharged or might face service-related medical problems in the future.
Brown, himself a veteran, said he suffered with an injury after leaving the service.
“I limped my way through college on a bad leg doing construction. It was the last thing I should have been doing,” Brown said.
The Montgomery GI Bill paid part of his tuition. But he could have been entitled to full tuition and medical coverage while in school through the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Education program — plus the GI Bill benefits, he said.
The key to collecting benefits is getting with the VA early and learning about what is available, Brown said.
The VA representatives are working out of family service centers at area bases and the increased personnel in Japan makes it easier for servicemembers, veterans and their families to get that help from the VA.
“The more you know and the sooner you know it, the better you will be,” he said.
The VA is battling against rumors, myths and hearsay about benefits and services, according to Brown.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Mike Currie said he had two surgeries and might develop diabetes in the future. He was concerned about a rumor he heard — veterans who are 30 percent disabled are not eligible for federal employment.
Not true, Brown told Currie.
“I was worried it would affect my future,” Currie said. “This [briefing] has dispelled some of those myths.”
For more informationCall your family support center to connect with a Department of Veterans Affairs representative at your base:
Sasebo Naval Base - Fleet and Family Support Center 252-3119Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni -Marine and Family Services Division 253-6161Marine bases on Okinawa - Marine Corps Family Team Building 645-3689Kadena Air Base - Airmen and Family Readiness Center 634-3366Torii Station - Army Family Team Building 644-4743Misawa Air Base - Airman and Family Readiness Center 226-4735Yokosuka Naval Base - Fleet and Family Support Center 243-3372Naval Air Facility Atsugi - Fleet and Family Support Center 264-3628Information including news on benefit changes and overseas contacts for servicemembers is available at the Veterans Affairs Web site, www.va.gov.