FRANKFORT – Recently, I had the honor to welcome a good friend to the Capitol to testify about a problem he and undoubtedly many others have had: Obtaining the veterans benefits they have earned.
All too often, these men and women are either unaware of what is available to them or they have run into a bureaucratic wall at the federal level. That is what happened to our county’s own Bluford “Buddy” Smith, who fought during World War II in Europe. A 1973 fire in St. Louis that destroyed millions of records, however, has made it difficult for him to prove that, despite the evidence he has compiled with the help of family and our community.
Even though I have known Buddy for a long time, I did not know he was facing this type of problem until recently. I had no idea he had taken on thousands of dollars of medical bills or had been denied pension benefits.
Fortunately, the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA) and its commissioner, Heather French Henry, are now involved. As she noted at the legislative meeting after Buddy spoke, KDVA is an extremely helpful resource for all of our veterans.
Kentucky has 311,000 of them, and she said many either take on the task of filing claims themselves or paying someone to do it for them.
Neither is necessary, she added, because KDVA has staff across Kentucky that is trained to do this work, plus any appeals, for free.
Kentucky, in fact, just became the first state to electronically file benefit claims directly to the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Just like filing taxes online, this approach should speed response time considerably.
If you are or know of a veteran who needs help getting benefits or services, please call Brian Bowman, our region’s KDVA representative. His number is 606-433-7522 or, toll-free, 866-647-2926.
If the veteran lives elsewhere in Kentucky, KDVA can be reached by calling 502-595-4447, or 800-928-4012, or by going to KDVA’s website at www.veterans.ky.gov and clicking on “Benefits.” Once there, click on “Your Benefits Representative” to find the phone number and email address of the field representative who serves the veteran’s county.
Many veterans may mistakenly believe their service is not relevant, especially if it occurred decades earlier. If they are having medical or financial issues, though, it certainly does not hurt to check eligibility for programs that may help.
KDVA is also an important resource for veterans in other ways. It is both an advocate for their cause and a clearing house of information on employment, education and healthcare. In addition, it plays a leading role in such initiatives as the current “Year of the Woman Veteran,” which is promoting the 24,000 women here in Kentucky who were in the military.
Kentucky, of course, has a deeper awareness of these issues because so many veterans live here, especially in the areas around Fort Knox and Fort Campbell. Nevertheless, there is always the possibility that there are other veterans are like Buddy Smith. My hope is that, as our outreach efforts continue, we can find, and then help, them all. No veteran should have to carry this type of burden alone.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.