COLORADO SPRINGS — They served our country and fought for our freedom, but some veterans are left fighting the VA system to get the benefits they earned.
The paperwork process might appear confusing or lengthy, but one local organization is helping thousands of Veterans in southern Colorado cut through the red tape.
"These guys sacrificed everything for us and when they come back they don't exactly get the best treatment," DAV Chapter 26 Junior Vice Commander Dave Johnson said.
The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 26 is making a strong push to help Veterans understand the benefits they qualify for and help them fill out the paperwork. They've even created their own call center which is staffed by volunteers Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross asked Johnson whether Veterans are still having to go through a lot of red tape in order to get their claims approved.
"Yes," he said. We get those calls every day. A lot of these guys have so much trouble they don't know where to turn. A lot of them say I couldn't get anywhere with the VA system and I didn't get any help. We know the system. We know which forms to file. We know how to process it faster."
Rather than waiting on hold for a VA representative, DAV 26 offers personalized care with in-person appointments.
"We show them every step of the way before they leave here," Lead Chapter Service Officer Robert Swetman said.
Swetman says he and other volunteers look at each veteran's situation---walking them through what paperwork is needed and most importantly, how and where to file the claim.
He says some Veterans don't realize how easy benefits claims can be processed with just a little bit of guidance.
"We have to prove two things," Swetman said. "Step 1 is that you are currently diagnosed with a condition. Step 2 is that it happened in the military or as a result of the military. Those are the only two things we have to prove at the end of the red tape."
DAV 26 says it has processed more than 4,000 claims since 2015. About 95-percent are approved, according to the organization.
The average processing time can vary from 3 to 6 months depending upon the complexity of the case.
Swetman says he takes pride in helping other veterans. For him, the experience is personal.
"In October 2012 I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer," he said. " I figured I wanted to save as many veterans between my 28-day chemo appointments that I'm currently on."
DAV 26 volunteers say there's no shortage of phone calls from veterans needing assistance. The group is always in search of more volunteers.
"We are short people and we can't help everyone like we would like to but volunteering is the most important thing that they can do for a veteran," Johnson said.
If you're interested in volunteering, you can contact the local DAV Chapter 26 Knob Hill organization via email at DAV26.colorado@Gmail.com.
DAV Chapter 26 is located at 6880 Palmer Park Boulevard in Colorado Springs.
If you're a local veteran in our community and need help filing for benefits, you can reach the DAV Chapter 26 office at 719-591-8787.
Q: You mentioned that it can take 3-6 months to process benefits claims, but said it could take longer. Why?
A: Each case is evaluated individually. Some benefits claims are more complicated than others and require additional documentation.
Q: Why is my VA claim rejected?
A: There are very specific requirements revolving around the information you must submit in order to get your claim processed. Delays in sending the appropriate paperwork required can result in a delayed or rejected claim. DAV Chapter 26 says it works hard to ensure your claim is filed right the first time.
Q: I've been waiting years for benefits and I'm getting nowhere. Will you help me?
A: KOAA News 5 is committed to helping our viewers and we fully support our Veterans. Investigating issues concerning specific benefit claims or health care matters can be a challenge with VA policies and privacy protections. However, if a veteran is willing to sign a privacy waiver, we can then assess your matter on a case-by-case basis.
Need our help? We're here for you! You can call our 24/7 news tip hotline at 719-228-6275.