Page added 11/13/11


by: Simone Becker


While attending the VW-1 All Hands Alumni reunion in Branson, MO, in October 2011, I heard comments from several attendees expressing frustration and bewilderment about obtaining VA benefits and health care.  On the spur of the moment, and with Ed Metzger squeezing me into a packed agenda, I provided a brief insight on this subject matter.  I was asked to put together this information so that it could be posted on the VW-1 website.  What follows is a slightly expanded version of the presentation I made at the reunion.

Who the Heck am I and Why Should You Listen to What I Have to Say?

For starters, I am a U.S. Navy veteran.  I served my three-year enlistment from 1959 to 1962.  Except for boot camp which was in Bainbridge, MD, I spent the entire time at NAS Anacostia in Washington, DC, and NAF Andrews, MD.  The entire flight operation was moved to NAF Andrews when Anacostia (and Bolling AFB) were closed to air traffic.  I reached E-5 as a Captain's Yeoman and driver.  I had the unique opportunity of serving as a "flight orderly" (known as a flight attendant in civilian terms) on VIP flights as a collateral assignment.  There was no such rating at that time and there probably still isn't.  I'm telling you this for a reason which will be explained later, not just to share sea tales.

I am also the wife of Fred Becker who flew as an aviation electronics technician with VW-1.  As a dependent, I was able to go to Guam with Fred and I know the long hours he flew in the "Willie Victors." Fred is now classified as 100% disabled due to un-employability caused by service-connected injuries and illnesses.  I was instrumental in helping Fred to file his first disability claim with the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs).

For a little more than ten years, I worked for the VA Roseburg Healthcare System in Oregon.  I began working as a billing clerk, moved up to the position of secretary to the manager of Quality Management, and spent the final six plus years as an executive secretary to the associate director of the facility working with all the top managers.  This experience gave me a lot of knowledge and insight into how the VA system works.

So How Does the VA System Work?

For the uninitiated, and even for some of those who are supposed to know, the VA system is confusing.  It is so confusing that several years ago, the VA came up with a training idea called "maps" that illustrated how things worked.  I was a facilitator for that training and I was amazed at how little the local VA employees understood the system.  If I recall correctly, there were about five maps, each with a different subject.  Does that give you an idea of the complexity? I'm going to simplify it here for you on a need-to-know basis.

As a veteran, what you need to know is that the Department of Veterans Affairs is comprised of three separate— let me emphasize that— separate administrations:

One more time: they are three separate administrations. Basically, employees of one administration have no clue what the other administrations do and they have practically no cross communications. About the only thing they have in common is "Veterans."

As a veteran, you will most likely deal with all three administrations during the course of your life.

If you believe you have a service-connected disability or illness, you will need to work with both the VBA and the VHA.

Veterans, of course, have been involved with the Department of Defense (DoD) and, in some cases, may still need to deal with it.  The DoD and VA both work with veterans, but they do not necessarily work with each other.

How Do I Apply for Benefits?

In order to apply for any benefits, whether home loans, education assistance, pension, or being awarded a service-connected disability rating, you will need to contact the VBA.  There should be a Regional Office in almost every state that can provide the forms you will need —” and some of them are lengthy and can be confusing.  If you are new to the VA, some basic information can be obtained at this website:

If you want to locate the nearest regional office, you can look it up on this website:

In Oregon, the only VBA Regional Office is located in Portland, which isn't convenient for those of us living in Southern Oregon. Our experience is that it is also rather difficult to call a Regional Office even though 1-800 numbers are provided.  Call centers are not necessarily located in the same state as the Regional Office you are calling. 

Be aware that the VBA has always worked under a heavy backlog.  Even with the addition of more employees, more training, and other improvements to the system, it will probably take a year or more before you will receive your determination once your claim has been submitted.  The important thing to remember is that the award will be retroactive to the date you first filed your claim.

How Do I Apply for Health Care?

In order to apply for VA health care you need to prove your eligibility.  Eligibility is complicated.  Rather than make you read a lot of fine print here, the brand new (as of November 11, 2011) VA website listed below explains the requirements:

Basically, and as simply as I can put it, you must meet one or more of the following requirements:

I repeat, this is a very simplified list and does not cover all the possible eligibilities.

If you believe that you are eligible for VA healthcare, you may request an application.  This is the form 1010EZ which includes information regarding your income.  You can complete it online, accessing it through the health benefits website listed above or at the following website:

You can also go to or call your local VA medical facility or outpatient clinic and request the form.  You will need a copy of your DD-214 or proof of service/discharge.

Your eligibility status and the level of care you are requesting will determine if you can receive health care and, if you can, whether a co-pay will be required for medications or medical treatment for other than a service-connected disability or illness.  Completing the 1010EZ does NOT determine whether or not you have a service-connected disability or illness.  That determination would be made by contacting the VBA.  Once you receive your disability rating from the VBA, the VHA will honor it regarding the level of care you are entitled to, with or without copays.

One-stop Shopping

Wouldn't it be nice if you could just go to one place to get most of this done? Well, you can! It is your County Veterans' Service Officer.  If you don't already know who that is and where the office is located, look in your local telephone directory under the county offices.  You might also be able to find the information online on your county's website.

What Can a County Veterans' Service Officer Do for Me?

A County Veterans' Service Officer (CVSO) can do a lot for you.  Your CVSO should become your new best friend.  There is a CVSO in almost every county.  They are hired by the county but also work under the Department of Veterans' Affairs for each state.  They are well trained and are kept up to date on changes in VA regulations and benefits, as well as those of each state and any benefits that may be offered by your county.  They work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs but are not employees of that Department.  Their sole job is to help veterans and their families.  They are dedicated to helping you.  They know what forms are needed, how to get them, how to fill them out, where to submit them, and do follow-up.  Once you receive a determination, they will review it with you and help you take further action if it is needed.  Take the time right now to look up the address and phone number of your County Veterans' Service Office and put it in your wallet or somewhere obvious.  You cannot do without it!

Give Me an Example of What a CVSO Has Done

When Fred and I lived in Colorado, the CVSO there helped Fred file his claim for a service-connected benefit.  It was a challenge for all of us.  First of all, the injury didn't reveal itself until ten years after Fred was discharged from the Navy.  That's when, at a still young age, he developed cataracts almost dead center in both eyes and, because of their location, Fred was practically blind.  The doctor told Fred there were several unusual things about that: his young age, the location and simultaneous rate of development of the cataracts in both eyes, and that he thought they could have been caused by non-ionizing radiation (microwaves/radar).  Fred had not told the doctor that he had worked as an aviation electronics technician in the Navy.  At the time, I was working in the Electromagnetic Fields Division of the National Institute of Standards in Boulder, CO. I had seen some information that referred to injuries caused by exposure to microwaves/radar.  Because Fred's eyesight had failed, he lost his job and we were without health insurance.  One thing led to another and Fred decided to file a claim for service-connected disability.  The VA had never heard of such a claim and fought it.  Our CVSO coached us all the way and was at every local hearing with us.  He helped us appeal the claim all the way to Washington, DC.  It was finally approved.

Since then, Fred developed other problems with his right eye resulting in total blindness in that one.  The CVSO here in Douglas County, Oregon, helped him file that claim.  The CVSO has also helped Fred file additional claims for Agent Orange and illnesses related to that exposure.  She is presently working with Fred to have one of the determinations upgraded due to what appears to be a gross error.

Fred volunteers at the CVSO and has seen what a difference can be made in the life of a veteran when the CVSO has the opportunity to help.  Many of those veterans thought they didn't have any service-connected disability or that it was "welfare" to file a claim.  It certainly isn't welfare.  Taking care of our nation's veterans is an obligation we owe them for putting their lives on the line so we can maintain our freedom.  Veterans have earned this right.

As for not thinking that they have a service-connected illness or injury, well, I'm one of those.  I maintained that for years until Fred and our CVSO kept nagging me.  Just to shut them up, I applied for a service-connected disability for loss of hearing.  Remember back in the beginning when I told you I had been a flight orderly? Some of those planes I flew in were unpressurized.  I had also been on an intramural pistol team.  We didn't use ear protection.  I thought perhaps there might be a connection, as shortly after my discharge, I recall beginning to have some hearing difficulty in my twenties.  This is what happened after I submitted my claim.  The CVSO ordered my medical records.  There actually was an entry made during my discharge physical that I had experienced a hearing loss.  I had forgotten that.  There was also an entry that I had a heart murmur.  I'd completely forgotten that, too.  The CVSO put my claim in for hearing loss and "heart condition.  " A year later, after being examined by a doctor contracted to do these types of exams, I received the decision from the VBA.  I had been turned down for my hearing loss as I wasn't in a rating/job that automatically qualified for it and I hadn't been deaf enough.  However, the VBA decided that my "heart condition" qualified as a service-connected disability.  I am now eligible for health care at the VA and my retirement is a little more comfortable.  If it hadn't been for the CVSO, I'd still be saying that I didn't have a service-connected disability.

Where Else Can I Get Help?

Most veteran service organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), American Legion (AL), or Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) have service officers who can also assist veterans.  Depending on training and/or experience, some may be more knowledgeable than others.  Contact the organizations in your area if you would like one of their service officers to help you submit a claim or enroll for health care.

Things Change

The two stories above remind me that things change over time.  Our disabilities or illnesses can worsen, our income can drop (especially in these uncertain economic times), and rules or regulations can be revised.  It took years for Agent Orange to be recognized along with illnesses that can result from exposure to the chemical.  If a veteran submitted a claim several years ago regarding Agent Orange or a related illness and was turned down, it might be possible to have that reviewed and the decision could be reversed due to a change in the rules.  We need to be our own advocates and be sure that we don't miss an opportunity.  With the help of your CVSO, it is a little easier.

Don't Give Up!

It is very discouraging when a person gets different answers on a subject, can't find any answers, or has a claim rejected.  The best advice I can offer is, "Don't give up." If Fred had given up with the first rejection of his claim for cataracts caused by non-ionizing radiation, he might not have any benefits today.  He didn't give up with the second rejection, either.  He appealed it three times.  If Fred had just sat back and believed that he had gotten the best he could from later determinations for other illnesses, even if he didn't think it was right, the determinations wouldn't have been changed.  Exhaust all avenues.

Final Words

I hope this has helped to clear up some confusion and helped you to understand what you need to do in order to submit a claim or enroll for health care.  In closing, I would like you to remember three things:

Contact your County Veterans' Service Officer

Things change

Don't give up!