Veterans Service Office help local vet apply for VA benefits
STEVENS COUNTY - Area veterans and families should know they are not alone when trying to navigate the complex world of veterans benefits - Hugh Reimers, Veterans Service Officer for both Stevens and Pope Counties is available to help.
"In a nutshell, a county veterans service officer helps veterans and their families apply for and get veterans benefits at the federal and state level," said Reimers.
Reimers has worked with veterans in both Stevens and Pope Counties since 2003 since he was hired as the first joint officer in the area. Reimers is a life-long resident of Stevens County and a military retiree.
Reimers splits time equally between the two counties, spending Monday and Tuesday in Glenwood, Thursday and Friday in Morris, and alternating between the two on Wednesday. His office in Stevens County is on the first floor of the Stevens County Courthouse.
When a veteran who is new to applying for benefits comes to the office, Reimers will spend time talking to learn about the veteran's military service, if they were injured in combat, what benefits were they thinking about applying for and whether those benefits are available.
The most common benefit utilized in Stevens County is the VA Hospital in St. Cloud and the associated clinics in Alexandria and Montevideo. By applying for VA healthcare benefits, veterans are entitled to use VA hospitals at a reduced cost and without a premium.
Another service the office provides is transportation for veterans that need help getting to a VA hospital. Veterans provide the money to help pay for the vehicle, and the county has agreed to pay all associated costs. The van is staffed by a collection of volunteer drivers who receive a stipend for driving for a day.
"We try to ask veterans to make their appointments on odd calendar dates so that we can be efficient in our operating costs," said Reimers.
They do make exceptions to the schedule, said Reimers, if there is an appointment that cannot be scheduled on an odd day or not having the van available would be detrimental to a veteran's health. Currently, the van makes a trip to St. Cloud or Minneapolis at least once a week, often as many as 10 times per month.
The office recently purchased a new minivan, which was paid for in part by a $20,000 grant from the State of Minnesota.
One of the biggest challenges Reimers said he faces in his work is finding enough hours in the day to be available to veterans in both counties.
"I wish I could be here 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for people who work and everything, but the economics of the whole situation doesn't make that feasible," Reimers said.
Technological advancements have helped Reimers keep up with his dual-county schedule. Recent upgrades to the computer system and a file digitization project have allowed him to access files and voicemails when he is out of the local office.
On the whole, the VA is also working to provide more services online while still giving the opportunity for veterans to speak with someone face-to-face with questions.
Reimers said his role extends even beyond just applying for benefits - through the office he can help make medical appointments, get appointments changed, fill prescriptions, appeal decisions and file claims.
Reimers also emphasized that he is a county employee, not a representative of the VA.
"I'm on [a veteran's] side," said Reimers. "and it's my job to help veterans get their benefits at the state and federal level. I don't have any benefits that I actually award. I help them get awarded benefits."
For more information about the Veterans Service Office visit http://www.co.stevens.mn.us/index.aspx?nid=883