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June 2011

How a VVA Service Officer Turns Veterans’ Lives Around By Claudia Gary Former U.S. Army reservist Eric Clark had grown accustomed to hearing the word “no.” He was unable to get adequate medical care for delayed complications from a hand injury he had suffered during Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1984. That began a series of problems that eventually led to homelessness. When Clark applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs VVA Service Officer seven years or so after the injury, the VA denied him any help. Margo Williams “Because I didn’t have paperwork saying that I was a veteran, no one would recognize me as a veteran for many years. It was very disheartening.” One day someone told Clark about going to the Veterans Affairs office in Washington, D.C., where Margo Williams works as a Service Officer for Vietnam Veterans of America. At last, the pattern of refusal changed. “She started helping me prepare papers and forms, statements....and that’s when my life began to turn around.” It takes an extraordinary person to combine the knowledge, patience, and strength that can cut through the obstacles that often keep veterans from getting VA benefits. Margo Williams is one such individual. She has worked with VVA as a Service Officer for four years, helping several hundred people in person and even more by phone or mail. “The paperwork is not user-friendly,” says Williams. “It is often redundant.” Despite recent improvements, including a Fast Track for straightforward claims and major efforts to overcome the VA’s notorious backlog, many veterans get frustrated and give up. It took a year for Clark to hear back, and the VA’s initial answer was another “no.” But this time, Williams continued to submit forms and file for extensions. Finally, says Clark, “someone in Richmond, VA, found my medical records.” Six to eight months later, “they notified me that I would be receiving my medical benefits.” The entire process took two years, and Clark now has his medical ID card, his veteran's ID card, and 10% disability compensation. Given the hassle and the wait time, is it worth the effort? Says Margo Williams: “I always tell veterans to apply for VA benefits. They sacrificed; the country owes them. Will it be an easy road? It might or might not be. But if you don’t apply, no one is going to knock on your door.” ■ VVA’s pickup service collects new and gently used clothing and household donations to support our Vets.

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Reconnect and get the latest news from VVA’s bimonthly magazine, The VVA Veteran.

VVA CHAPTERS ACROSS AMERICA Helping Veterans, Communities, and Those Serving in Harm’s Way Auburn, NY – A highway dedicated by and for Vietnam veterans VVA Chapter 704 of Cayuga County in upstate New York organized an extraordinary event for Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, March 29. The chapter held a ceremony on the south lawn of Auburn City Hall, unveiling signage to identify the part of New York State Route 38 that winds through Auburn as the “Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway of Valor.” That

Tom Bryant, Vice President of VVA Chapter 704, joins Mayor Nick Valenti of Auburn, NY, at the dedication of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway of Valor on March 29, 2011.

day’s ceremony was also an occasion to honor the anniversary of the 1973 withdrawal of the last 2,500 American troops from Vietnam. The event culminated a year-long joint effort between local schools, the City of Auburn Mayor's office, and VVA Chapter 704 to develop and install the new signs at the north and south entrances to the city. To create the sign, Chapter 704 had reviewed artwork submitted by various schools and individuals. Special recognition was given to >> continued on page 2

VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA 8719 Colesville Rd., Suite 100, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910



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VVA CHAPTERS ACROSS AMERICA Helping Veterans, Communities, and Those Serving in Harm’s Way Cheboygan, MI – Historic

military vehicles displayed to benefit veterans

Cheboygan, MIMemorial, – Historic The Dogwood Vietnam first dedicated on April 26, 1966, is believed to be the first public/civic

memorial dedicateddisplayed to those who and those military vehicles todied benefit vet-who served in the Vietnam War. erans Family of James Marion Kardos, PFC US Army, killed September 4, 1969, attended the 2011 rededication.

VVA Chapter 274national in Cheboygan, MI, inthe 2008 rededication ceremony. Marc Leepson, of VVA’s office, addresses conjunction with the Michigan Military Vehicle Preservation Association, Charlottesville, VA – presented Revisitinga America's first memorial for Historic Military Vehicle Show and Swap Vietnam veterans Meet on April 15 and 16. Held at the VVA Dogwood in Charlottesville includes a rededication of the chapterThe hallannual and described as festival a "free educaDogwood Vietnam Memorial, which was originally dedicated in 1966 and is believed to tional, fun event for the entire family," the be the nation’s first memorial for those show began on Friday morning with a who died and those who served in the Vietnam War. The memorial honors 23 Charlottesville reveille and color guard ceremony. Saturday's and Albemarle County casualties. This year'sincluded speakeraofChippewa honor was Carlton Crenshaw, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam events Nation Veterans 1972-73, who addressed those who attended ceremony conducted by Tracy Heath. Visitors the rededication on April 15. American the site, one for each onflags both were days placed had an on opportunity to tour and fallen soldier. Throughout the year, those who examine privately owned historic militaryvisit Charlottesville may pay their respects at the memorial in McIntyre Municipal vehicles, speak with the owners, and learnPark, the adjacent to the US 250 bypass (Veterans Memorial Drive). ■ history and uses of each vehicle. April 15 also coincided with Chapter 274's monthly "Pasty Day," in which >> Auburn, NYchapter continued from page 1 members bake and sell the regional the Tyburn Academy of Auburn, treat to raise funds for their regular art teacher Christine Alexander, operations to assist veterans of the and Anine Hansen, an exchange Vietnam War and more recent student from Denmark whose wars. design was the unanimous choice of the VVA chapter members. Other groups who were represented at the ceremony included: VVA Chapter 377 from Cortland and Tompkins Color guard assembles for the March 29 dedication of Vietnam Counties; VVA Chapter 480 from Tioga County; Chapter 17 Veterans Memorial Highway of Valor. of the Blue Knights Motorcycle Club; Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1975, which held a “coffee hour” at the end of the event; and the Swietonioski-Kopeczek American Legion Post 1324, which provided its rifle guard and bugle for the ceremony. The new sign is visible to all who enter Auburn on Route 38 either from the north or the south. The highway’s rededication was accomplished in the hope of reminding future generations of the sacrifices made by those who served our country in Vietnam, just as VVA is dedicated to honoring the sacrifices of past, present, and future members of the armed forces. ■

VVA Chapter 274 in Cheboygan, MI, in conjunction with the Michigan Military Vehicle Preservation Association, presented a Historic Military Vehicle Show and Swap Meet on April 15 and 16. Held at the VVA chapter hall and described as a “free educational fun event for the entire family,” the show opened with a reveille and color guard. Saturday’s events included a Chippewa Nation Veterans ceremony conducted by Tracy Heath. Visitors on both days toured and examined privately owned

These and other military vehicles were on display at the Cheboygan VVA chapter’s “show and swap meet” on April 15 and 16.

historic military vehicles, learning the history and uses of each vehicle. April 15 was also Chapter 274’s monthly “Pasty Day,” in which members bake and sell the regional treat to raise funds for their regular operations to assist veterans of all wars. ■

California VVA honors Assemblyman Jim Nielsen On March 31, 2011, the Vietnam Veterans of America California State Council honored Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (RGerber) with a Legislator of the Year Award for his role in co-authoring that state’s Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day bill (AB 717). The increasingly widespread recognition of Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day owes much to individual efforts by elected officials as well as active veterans in many states across America. ■