ST. MARYS — A representative of the Veterans Service Commission spoke to area veterans about benefits they can obtain through the Department of Veterans Affairs Wednesday afternoon at Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices.
Auglaize County Veterans Service Commission Investigator/Veterans Services Officer Lynne Skaggs explained to attendees some of the requirements to obtain pensions, health care benefits, transportation, compensation and financial assistance through the VA.
“Every county in the state of Ohio has a Veterans Service Office, so I am just over Auglaize County but can handle benefits for any county or any resident of any county throughout the state of Ohio,” Skaggs said.
Skaggs noted that there are three levels of pensions available to qualifying veterans and widows.
“There are three levels of pension that somebody can be eligible for,” she said. “There’s our pension, then there’s someone who is housebound and eligible for pension and then there are those who are in need of regular aid and attendance, and that’s usually our highest level of pension.”
The level of pension depends on three criteria, she added.
“The three levels depend on medical care that is provided, medical need and medical expenses,” Skaggs said. “It mostly depends on the need of the veteran or the need of the widow.”
She listed several requirements for veterans to be determined eligible for pensions through the VA.
“The veteran had to have served and been discharged under other than dishonorable,” she said. “The veteran had to have served 90 days, and in that 90 days, at least one of those days had to be during a period of war … The veteran or the widow has to be either 65 years old or permanently and totally disabled and unable to work.”
The VA also looks at gross income, medical expenses and assets. All the information needed to complete an application can be obtained in a few phone calls to bankers, pharmacists and doctors, Skaggs said.
She added that widows of veterans need a handful of documents for an application.
“Widows are going to need the military discharge papers, and they’re also going to need their marriage certificate and the death certificate for the veteran,” Skaggs said.
There are also specific forms needed for each level of pension, she said.
Skaggs said health care benefits are also available to veterans.
“Health care benefits may be available to our veterans upon application,” she said. “Much of the information that we need for our pensions, we’re going to need for our health care. We’re going to need gross income, medical expenses in the last one year, a very close estimate will do, assets, burial and educational expenses and the military discharge.”
She noted that the health care benefits are only available to veterans, and if veterans sign up for the health care, they do not have to use it.
“A common misconception about the VA health care is that if you’re signed up, you have to use it,” Skaggs said. “You never have to use VA health care. I have a lot of veterans who use it as a fallback plan. I have even more veterans who only get their medications from the VA.”
For veterans in Auglaize County, a transportation service is available.
“If you live in Auglaize County, we can pick you up in one of our vans and one of our fantastic drivers will take you straight to your appointment, wait for you and bring you home,” Skaggs said. “We even have some who can help our veterans who are lost in the huge VA facility in Dayton by getting them specifically to their room.”
Almost every county has transportation available to veterans, Skaggs noted.
“Almost every county has vans that will take you to your appointment,” she said.
Compensation is also available through the VA.
“Compensation is a monetary benefit for veterans who were injured during their time of service or who have a disability or injury as a result of their time of service,” Skaggs said, using the example of the effects of agent orange to Vietnam veterans who now may have diabetes because of their time in the service.
Skaggs said every county in Ohio has its own financial assistance program.
“Every county in the state of Ohio has financial assistance, but it is self-governed so I can only speak for our county (Auglaize County),” Skaggs said.
“Financial assistance is offered to veterans, dependants of veterans and widows who find themselves in a financial emergency.”
She said when veterans are in a “tough spot,” they can bring their bills and bank records to her and Skaggs will find what help can be provided. An application is then filled out and reviewed by a board. She noted that in Auglaize County, a application is reviewed by a board of five area veterans.
Skaggs encouraged any area veteran with questions about benefits available and how to obtain them to contact her. A veteran herself, Skaggs said she enjoys helping service men and women.
“I served three years in the Army, and after I came home, I became a veterans service officer,” she said, noting she has held this job for approximately five years. “One of the best parts about my job is serving those who have served. It’s just an amazing feeling to be a part of the process.”
The Auglaize County Veterans Service Commission is located at 209 Blackhoof St., Wapakoneta, and is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For more information, contact Skaggs at 419-739-6750 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices, call 419-394-2366 or go online to Otterbein.org.