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Dora Manzanares: Gold Star Mother, a veteran’s friend

It is with great sadness that I write this.

Dora Manzanares passed away last Friday.

Dora was a Gold Star Mother who lost her son in Vietnam while he was in the service of our country. She was my friend, and walked beside me in ceremonies such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day and many others.

She was not a veteran herself, but she gave up her son for the freedom we have today. She suffered an enormous loss, but willingly gave of herself to the American Legion and Auxiliary of Post 108 for 40 plus years.

I shall miss her and never forget her. She is no longer in pain. My prayers go out to her family and friends.

Fair winds and following seas, my friend.

Fully developed claims 

The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs heard testimony from Verna Jones of The American Legion during a Sept. 11 update on how well the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program for fully developed benefits claims (FDCs) is being implemented.

Because they require no further documentation from claimants, FDCs move through VA’s claims processing system much faster than traditional claims, helping to reduce the backlog. According to VA, nearly 150,000 FDCs have been received during the 2013 fiscal year. So far, more than 25 percent of claims received since July 1 have been FDCs. As of Sept. 9, the backlog stood at about 457,000 claims — down from 633,000 last March.

Jones, director of the American Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, told the subcommittee the Legion has taken a leading role in the FDC program because it was a natural fit for its service officers who “are already trained to put together as much of the information, up front, for every claim for VA. They’re doing the same work that we’ve always done, but now the VA is moving faster” and veterans are involved in the processing of their own claims.

When VA gets these FDCs, Jones said, they can do a better job “because they have everything they know the veteran wants to give to them and they know the claim is in good order.”

The American Legion has spearheaded the FDC program since last December, visiting VA regional offices in Pittsburgh, Denver, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Nashville, Oakland, Reno and Togus. During each site visit, teams of Legion experts reviewed the FDC implementation process, identified best practices, and provided additional training to its service officers.

From these visits, Jones said the Legion has found the FDC program works best when all the stakeholders buy into the process.

“If the VA leadership in an office does not believe in the program, then you’re not going to see as much success,” Jones said. “By the same token, we’ve had to do a lot of work with our own service officers. We looked at the FDC claims, and we found training opportunities to make sure that we were giving the VA a better-quality product to work with.”

When FDCs are submitted, many veterans get decisions on their claims within 125 days, the official time limit before a claims goes into backlogged status. Jones told the subcommittee she has seen some FDCs adjudicated in less than 90, 60 and even 30 days.

“We’re working hard to commit our service officers to this program, because it gets better results for veterans,” Jones said. “And we’re hoping that VA is making the same push to their leadership, to get more consistent results from all of the (regional) offices.”

While the VA regional office in Indianapolis was noted by Jones as a model of outstanding work, she said the Baltimore office “was aggressively excluding veterans from the FDC program. They spent more time trying to exclude a Pentagon 9/11 veteran out of the FDC program than the time it would have taken to adjudicate that claim.”

Are FDCs going to help America’s veterans? Jones’ answer to the subcommittee was, “Yes.” But some things can be done better, such as including veterans of the National Guard and reserve in the program.

“The last decade has certainly shown the men and women of the National Guard and reserve are just as involved in defending this nation as the active-duty troops,” Jones said. “We should be working to make sure they don’t get left out.”

Further information

For further Information on VA benefits, please call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office, located at the Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Blvd.

I will be out of the office on the following days for regular scheduled meetings:

• Vets4Vets: Tuesday mornings, 9 a.m.-noon.

• Arboles Community Center, first and third Thursdays of each month. Back around 2 p.m.

• Pagosa Outreach Connection, 8:30-10 a.m.every Thursday.

The office number is 264-4013, fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-3590, and e-mail is raytaylor@archuletacounty.org. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for completing applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to, and a copy for filing in the Archuleta County VSO office. If the office is closed, I am out assisting veterans, leave me a message and phone number to contact you.

The following veterans groups meet in Pagosa Springs:

American Legion Post 108: second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.

American Legion Post 108 Ladies Auxiliary: second Tuesday of the month at 4 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.

Veterans for Veterans: Every Tuesday at 10 a.m., Quality Resort.

Women’s Group of Spouses of Veterans: Every other Monday, 6 p.m., St. Patrick’s Episcopal Parish Hall, 225 S. Pagosa Blvd. Contact Charlotte, 731-1025.

Point Man Ministries Breakfast for Veterans every Tuesday 8:30 a.m. at Buffalo Inn, 164 N Pagosa Blvd. Contact Vincent, (435) 618-0049 or Vfortunato777@gmail.com.

Important numbers:

(970) 799-VETS, www.Vets4VetsPSCO.org.

Durango VA Outpatient Clinic, 247-2214.

Farmington VA Center. (505) 327-9684.

The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support to veterans in crisis, as well as to their family and friends 24/7/365. Call (800) 273-8255, chat online or text 838255.

This story was posted on October 3, 2013.