Office puts veterans first
Who is better qualified to take care of the 6,700 veterans in Armstrong County than other veterans?
That's the sentiment of county Veterans Affairs Officer Rick Croyle and his assistant, Chuck Righi. Between them, Croyle and Righi have a combined total of 50 years of military service.
“We are veterans and we understand and treat our fellow veterans the way they should be treated,” Croyle said.
It could be said that everyday is Veterans Day at the veterans affairs office.
Processing claims for disability compensation or veterans pension, or helping widows receive survivors' pensions or burial benefits is a big part of a veterans affairs officer's job.
To do so means that service officers must have knowledge and training.
Both men have completed an initial week-long training accreditation through the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, office of the Attorney General. They must also have 16 hours of annual training to maintain the accreditation.
Additionally, Croyle is also a member of the National Association of County Directors of Veterans Affairs, and a certified AMVETS Service Officer.
He is also a life member of AMVETS, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Military Service Association and the Air Force Sergeants Association. Righi is a life member of the VFW and the National NCO Association.
“Although we process many claims by veterans for service connected disability compensation or pensions,” Croyle said, “our biggest job is helping widows file for survivors benefits. In some cases widows, or widowers of women veterans, may be eligible for a pension, depending on total household income. But most of the claims we handle are for free headstones. The county will also pay $100 toward burial expenses such as headstone setting.”
Croyle added that there are still a number of veterans who served “in country” in Vietnam that have not yet filed for Veterans Administration benefits.
He said some Vietnam veterans were so disgruntled that they wanted nothing to do with the government.
He said that most Vietnam veterans are eligible for VA medical benefits and some may also be eligible for disability compensation.
“We are not the V.A.” Croyle said. “We do not work for the V.A. We are service officers employed by the county to work for veterans.” Righi added that the office is
basically an information center that can inform veterans of the benefits they may be entitled to and help them file the proper paperwork to apply for those benefits.
“Since we are veterans ourselves,” Righi said, “we want this office to be a ‘comfort zone' for the veterans we serve. We want them to feel at ease. We do not or cannot make any determination regarding the awarding of benefits, that's up to the V.A. But we see to it that all necessary paper work is filed completely and correctly.”
Croyle added that although communication with V.A. Regional Offices can sometimes be slow, he is looking forward an upcoming remote access to V.A. compensation and pension tracking systems for service officers.
Croyle said that veterans may track the status of their own claims on-line by visiting www.ebenefits.va.gov.
Medical information and prescription ordering may be also done on-line through www.myhealthyvet.va.gov.
The Armstrong County Office of Veterans Affairs is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. All veterans with benefit inquiries are welcome to stop in.
Tom Mitchell is a correspondent for the Leader Times.