Paul Lawrence: Veteran outreach – agency creating new ways to connect during coronavirus shutdown

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At the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), we are the starting point for all veterans seeking VA benefits and services outside of health care. We want our veterans to know that we are so grateful for their sacrifices and that VA is here for them.

From the start of his administration, President Trump has been focused on serving our nation’s veterans, and it’s the focus of my work as the under secretary for benefits to help ensure that no veteran is forgotten.

During the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been leading a nationwide telephone townhall effort with veterans from all over the country. These town halls have created a way for me to interact with veterans and their families, especially during this time of uncertainty, and I’m committed to providing regular updates on how we are providing the benefits veterans have earned.

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So far, I have reached out to over one million veterans to discuss VA’s continued service as we fight the coronavirus. During our town halls, we’ve discussed existing and new benefits, such as Blue Water Navy benefits, the Solid Start program, the Veterans Benefits Banking Program, and the GI Bill.

I’ve been so honored to participate in these sessions, learning more about veterans’ needs and answering their questions. In turn, I’ve updated them on the progress and improvements we’re making at VBA and how they can stay connected with us.

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The stories of service and sacrifice I’ve heard from veterans continue to affect me personally. Since starting these weekly town halls, I have received thousands of questions regarding veterans’ benefits.

The most rewarding feature of the town halls is the interaction. I’ve answered questions posed directly from veterans, spouses and dependents who want to know about benefit eligibility and appeals; filing extensions; pension, survivor and housing benefits; and compensation and pension examinations.

From these interactions, I learned there is a strong desire for basic information. That is both surprising and directional. We know how quickly we can resolve claims in 2020. Now, we’ve got to do more to stay connected to veterans and have fruitful, meaningful and positive interactions.

I’ve also learned that we need to focus on connecting veterans with VBA. Once connected, we can interact with them and move their cases to a decision.

We’re engaged with veterans, and our commitment to serve them through COVID-19 is being carried out daily. If you open the door to interaction, we will be there and do everything we can to serve you. 

The fact is, “we’re not your father’s VA.” If you applied for benefits 20 or 30 years ago, you had a different experience than those applying today. If you didn’t get the benefits you were looking for, please come back to us and reapply so we can take a fresh look. To paraphrase Gen. Omar Bradley, “We are here for your problems, not our own.”

We’re engaged with veterans, and our commitment to serve them through COVID-19 is being carried out daily. If you open the door to interaction, we will be there and do everything we can to serve you.

These are just a few of the ways we are still here working for our nation’s veterans. So, even though our regional office buildings may be closed right now, you can still get information about benefits, filing a claim or other by visiting our website at www.va.gov or calling 1-800-827-1000.

This is a critical time for our country and our veterans, and I remain committed to providing regular updates on how we are providing benefits veterans have earned.

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VBA is working to maintain open lines of communication and provide the latest benefits updates to our veterans. In the coming weeks, we will be hosting more telephone town hall sessions for different states around the country. I encourage veterans to participate when possible; I’d like to hear from you.

The work we are doing through our town halls is essential, and indicative of our commitment to serving veterans every day by whatever means necessary. We hope veterans and their families will get the help they need by joining us. For their sacrifice we owe a debt we can never repay – our programs and benefits are one way for this country to say, again, thank you.

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