Do you know how Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) work and how they can help you as a veteran? There are hundreds of VSOs ready to help veterans in a variety of circumstances. These organizations have very familiar names, but the services offered by each VSO may vary depending on the focus of the organization and other factors.
Famous VSOs include the VFW, AMVets, DAV, Vietnam Veterans of America, American Legion, and the American Red Cross. There are many hundreds more.
But if you don’t know what these agencies have to offer, it’s easy to miss out on important assistance with veteran benefits, making claims with the VA, following up on a VA decision appeal, and much more.
Types Of VSOs
- Congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organizations recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs “for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims under laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
- Congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organizations not formally recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purpose of preparation, presentation and prosecution of “Veteran’s claims only.”
- VSOs that are not congressionally chartered BUT that are “officially recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs” for preparation, presentation and prosecution of Veteran’s claims only.
- Veteran organizations that are neither congressionally chartered nor officially recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purpose of preparation, presentation and prosecution of Veteran’s claims only.
- National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, National Association of County Veteran Services Officers, and State Veterans Affairs agencies/officers recognized by the Secretary “for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims under laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
What Veteran Service Organizations Say About Themselves
There are so many VSOs that it’s impossible to fit them all into a single category or assume they are useful to all veterans. That is one reason why VSOs often focus on a specific segment of the veteran population, such as Veterans Of Foreign Wars, the DAV, and foundations dedicated to raising awareness of POW/MIAs.
One of the best-known VSOs, the American Legion, describes the work of a Veteran Service Organization in the role of an ally for the veteran. The American Legion official site states, “A veterans service officer is an individual who advocates for veterans benefits. They should never take an action which they believe to have a negative impact on the veteran or family of the veteran.”
This portion of the official site adds a standard for itself which includes having a knowledgeable, trained staff; “The VSO is also responsible for being proficient in the areas of customer service, technical knowledge of regulation and law as it pertains to VA matters.”
AMVETS is another well-established Veteran Service Organization offering help to vets and their families with an emphasis on the agency’s expertise in VA claims. “One of the greatest benefit of our AMVETS NSO to veterans and their families is their extensive knowledge and experience of the process and administrative procedures” for VA benefits.
Another VSO, known today by its acronym DAV (standing for Disabled American Veterans,) strives to be an advocate in many ways including transportation support for veterans with medical appointments, hosting job fairs, and helping vets to find new careers or file benefit claims.
“With nearly 1,300 chapters and more than 1 million members across the country, DAV empowers our nation’s heroes and their families by helping to provide the resources they need.”
The commitment of these organizations cannot be denied. Sometimes the biggest challenge in selecting a VSO to help you is finding one that is in the local area or available via telecommuting, and finding one that specializes in the type of services needed by the veteran.
Services Offered By VSOs
Not all VSOs offer identical services, and some VSOs have specific areas of expertise that may be useful for some veterans and military family members but not for others.
Remember that you may have access to local veteran resources that the local chapter of your chosen VSO can help you learn more about, and you should definitely ask about both national-level and local-level programs for vets and family members that may be able to help.
In general, you may find that most VSOs offer some or more of the following:
- Applying for VA Health Care Benefits
- Federal, state, and local education benefits for qualifying veterans
- Information and assistance for Veterans with Service-Connected Disabilities
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
- Help with certain local licensing and/or veteran-owned business issues
- Help applying for or continuing VA pension Benefits
- Assist with VA Educational and Training Benefits
- Explaining the VA Home Loan benefit
- Help with applications for the VA Life Insurance Program
- Assistance applying for or understanding VA Burial and Memorial benefits
- Transition Assistance
- Emergency assistance and/or help for potentially homeless vets
- Assistance with benefits related to Dependents and Survivors Health Care
- Information and assistance for Dependents and Survivors Benefits
- Acting on behalf of the veteran in appeals of VA claims decisions
- Suicide Prevention
- Assistance with VA Specially Adapted Housing benefits
- Assistance with applying for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
VSO Services At VA Regional Offices
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a list of VA Regional Offices across the United States; did you know that certain VSOs have representatives working at these offices who can help you? The VA official site includes a list of regional offices with VSOs assigned to them; these are “accredited representatives” who have been trained by the VA.
What makes a VSO representative “accredited” to work in these VA offices? According to the VA itself, “An accredited representative is an individual who has undergone a formal application and training process and is recognized by VA as being capable” of providing help for veterans with VA benefits and services.
It isn’t easy to get accredited. The process involves an exam, a background check, continuing education, etc.
The basic difference between an accredited VSO and a non-accredited one? The VA says those recognized by the VA may “legally represent” a veteran or family members in VA matters. A non-accredited VSO workers “can provide information, but cannot be a representative” in a legal sense before the VA.
What It Means To Be A Federally Chartered VSO
The Department of Veterans Affairs has published a list of federally chartered VSOs, but also has lists of agencies that (see above) are not federally chartered. What does it mean to have a federal charter?
A VSO is not created by the federal government, but such agencies (assuming they meet federal standards) may be approved by VA leadership, “…for purposes of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims under laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
The VA official site takes the stance that a federal charter should not be considered a VA endorsement or a guarantee of services available from a VSO. The language on the VA official site also address the inclusion of non-chartered organizations.
VA policy is to include such groups but such inclusion, “does not constitute or reflect VA recognition of said organization and its representatives for purposes of representation of VA claimants.”
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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