“As advocates for veterans, the Division’s team of state-accredited service officers know the extent, meaning, and application of the laws passed by the U.S. Congress and the Florida Legislature regarding veteran’s benefits.
The team provides direct assistance when claims for benefits earned by military service need to be completed and submitted to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Our team will apply specialized knowledge in the way best suited to the needs of each veteran and his or her beneficiaries.” – www.pascocountyfl.net/496/Veterans-Services
Martin J. Mazurek, Lead VSO (Veterans Services Officer) for the Pasco County Veterans Services Office located in Dade City, Florida, describes the ‘Veteran Benefit Black Hole’ as a state of misinformation. Martin and his fellow VSOs aim to be a light at the end of that tunnel, ensuring veterans have clear and concise information regarding their earned benefits. Not all veterans are aware of the assets they have within their local Veterans Services Office. All veterans and surviving spouses are encouraged to visit a VSO to acquire the most up-to-date information about veteran benefits and services within their state and county.
“We are Pasco County government accredited veterans service officers. Most people have no idea who we are. They often think we are part of the VA (Veterans Administration), but we’re not; we are part of the Pasco government. The Board of County Commissioners hired us to help veterans and their family members in the claims process. I tell people to thank the County Commissioners. We wouldn’t be here if they didn’t think veterans were important.” Explains Martin.
In Florida, 66 out of 67 counties offer Veterans Services Officers, most full-time, but not all. Veterans Services Offices can be found in many other states as well. Our snowbird population often comes into the Pasco offices in Florida: “If we can serve them, we will. They are veterans who have served our country, so we are always glad to help Florida visitors.” Says Martin.
An appointment does not require a specific issue or task. An appointment can be made to meet your local VSO, understand what they offer and how they can help, and possibly discover a benefit or service you can use.
“There is definitely a benefit to meeting someone face-to-face. The opportunity to ask questions becomes a method of discovery that exposes benefits and programs veterans may be unaware of. By coming into the office, we can discuss all types of potential benefits hinging on their service and help prepare all required paperwork for any claim.” Explains Martin.
There are two key points to remember about your county VSO: they are state-accredited and free of charge. Often, a veteran will hire a private attorney or other entity who requires payment for their services. Sometimes, veterans are charged large amounts of money for something that could be free.
“One of the biggest challenges for veterans is the overwhelming nature of paperwork,” exclaims Martin, “We have all filled out applications before, but with disability claims, a wrong answer on a form can impact a determination, create a major problem down the road, and is sometimes very hard to fix.” At the Veterans Services Office, the VSOs guide veterans through the application process, clarify current laws and regulations, and guide them in finding potential qualifying benefits. “We take that burden off of them by putting their applications together and submitting them and then remaining as their point of contact through the process.”
County Veterans Services Offices are not large bureaucracies. You will likely find two or three VSOs on-site at each of Pasco’s three locations. You will not find a large, packed waiting room with people holding numbers waiting to be called. A visit to your local VSO is a scheduled appointment offering privacy, patience, and direct attention to each veteran’s needs. “We realize many veterans don’t like to be in crowds. Our appointment system allows the private time required to go in-depth into potential claims and to discuss medical records and other sensitive information. We provide the time and space a veteran needs to feel free and comfortable discussing private matters.
Veteran’s benefits are applied during life and after death. For a VSO, an ideal situation is when a veteran comes in for an appointment and brings along their spouse. Including the veteran’s family creates a relationship between the VSO and the veteran’s family, which can be helpful if a veteran passes. “It’s not unlike a doctor’s appointment you have, and upon returning home, your spouse has a ton of questions you forgot to ask,” explains Martin, “when a spouse is present at the appointment, they have an opportunity to learn about benefits available today and in the future.” For a widow or widower, having developed a relationship with their VSO eliminates the stress of managing benefits after the loss of a loved one.
“We encourage our clients to share with their network of friends the benefits of visiting with a VSO, no matter their state of residency. We ask them to spread the word that sitting down with their local VSO may identify benefits they are missing out on.”
One of the most significant accomplishments for a VSO is when a newly found disability compensation has been the catalyst to avoid homelessness for a veteran. “Sometimes these benefits are the difference between a veteran or widower remaining in their home.” Shares Martin
County Veterans Services Offices and their VSOs continually strive to meet the veteran population in their communities. Many veterans find their way to their local VSO through referrals from other veteran organizations, such as the VA Hospital. VSOs also find time to visit local assisted living facilities to ensure the residents and their caregivers know the benefits available to them. Local VSOs are available daily and accessible as people’s needs change or new questions and concerns arise.
The Top Three Things Your VSO Wants You to Know
- VSOs are Accredited Veterans Service Officers.
- There are three locations in Pasco County.
- Be sure you know where your DD-214 is.