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Nov 9, 2015

County Helps Local Veterans Navigate The Benefits System

Sponsored Content provided by Chris Coudriet - County Manager, New Hanover County Government

One of the important services New Hanover County provides to our residents is our Veteran Services office. For many years, this branch of county government has assisted veterans and eligible family members in applying for benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other agencies. With Veterans Day on Nov. 11, this is an appropriate time to take a closer look at some of those services.
 
Veterans and surviving family members in New Hanover County received $110 million in federal VA benefits in 2014. This includes $69.6 million in compensation of various kinds, as well as $12.6 million in education assistance, $26.9 million for medical care and $1.1 million in insurance benefits.
 
That indicates how important these benefits are, and why we work hard to help all veterans get the help and services they’re entitled to.
 
The Veterans Service office is in the County Government Center and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Our staff also offers services on the first and third Thursdays of each month at the K.B. Hines Senior Center at 308 Cape Fear Boulevard in Carolina Beach. To make best use of your time, we suggest contacting the office before visiting to schedule an appointment.
 
Some of the tasks that our Veterans Service experts help with are filing disability claims with the VA, getting copies of the “DD 214” form that documents each veteran’s status, securing military IDs, and applying for a military headstone or grave marker.
 
One important function that directly relates to county government is ensuring that eligible veterans get the property tax relief they are entitled to under North Carolina law.
 
Other areas in which our specialists can help navigate through the layers of federal paperwork are life insurance, applying for VA home loans, qualifying for “GI Bill” education benefits, and working with the VA’s health care system.
 
Last year, our Veteran Services Department saw 8,189 veterans. More than a thousand of them submitted new applications for compensation or health care assistance, which typically reduces their need for help through county or state programs. As an example, quite a few New Hanover County veterans and eligible family members who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities rely on a VA pension to offset the cost of their care.
 
We have seen that sometimes eligible beneficiaries learn after the fact that they had qualified for one VA program or another. Fortunately, they can catch up on what they missed through retroactive, one-time payments. These have ranged from several hundred to several hundred thousand dollars. Recurring monthly payments to veterans can be as large as $8,000. Needless to say, securing this income will improve a veteran’s quality of life and daily living standard.
 
The number of veterans and eligible family members seeking services through our office has more than doubled in just the past six years. However, as the military downsizes in the upcoming years, North Carolina’s current veteran population of 775,000 is projected to decrease to less than 660,000 by 2040. New Hanover County’s veteran population, now estimated at 17,403, will also feel the effects of this reduction. As their numbers shrink, these veterans’ average age will rise, and the need for VA benefits may well rise with it.
 
To increase our presence in the community, our Veterans Service experts visit senior centers, the Division of Employment Security, nursing homes, private residences and homeless shelters. They also attend veterans’ events. At all these places they work to spread awareness of available benefits and programs, and offer assistance.
 
Helping New Hanover County’s veterans is a smart investment in a healthy, productive community, and a service for a group of people who are among the community’s most valuable citizens. But, of course, doing right by those who have served our country is also, simply, the right thing to do.
 
New Hanover County is committed to progressive public policy, superior service, courteous contact, judicious exercise of authority, and sound fiscal management to meet the needs and concerns of our citizens today and tomorrow. See more at http://www.nhcgov.com.

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