Orange County Veterans Services, part of the County’s Community and Family Services Department, has been helping veterans with their VA benefits since 1945. Unfortunately, many veterans do not know they are eligible for benefits, and still more are unaware that the County is here to help.
“There are almost 70,000 veterans in Orange County, but only 17,000 are getting benefits of any kind,” said Tommie Maldonado, program manager for Veterans Services and Veterans Service Officer. “We have their contact information, but we’re not authorized to reach out to them directly for any reason. We either have to wait for them to contact us, or we go out into the community and provide information to businesses and veterans groups about what we do here.”
This outreach helps veterans understand what benefits they qualify for, as well as how Veterans Services can help. Dianne Arnold, division manager for the County’s Citizen Resource and Outreach Division, supervises Veterans Services and works with Maldonado to ensure everything is being done to get veterans the benefits they deserve, work through any issues that may arise and coordinate with other offices and veterans’ programs to make the process as seamless as possible.
“It can be complicated,” admits Arnold, “because we’re talking about a lot of different benefits and getting the ones you’re entitled to requires doing the appropriate paperwork. We can’t improve veterans’ quality of life through the relief of financial and healthcare burdens if they’re completely unaware they’re entitled to that relief.”
Maldonado, a 30-year U.S. Army veteran, has specialized knowledge and training suited to procuring veteran-related entitlements, which may be available from a variety of government agencies.
“Many veterans think if they didn’t go to war, they’re not considered a veteran, which is wrong,” he asserted. “If you completed two years of service and got an honorable discharge, you can file for compensation for anything that happened to you while you were in the military.”
Maldonado also stresses that just because you applied for benefits once and were denied does not mean you cannot appeal it.
“Veterans can always come back and try again,” he explained. “There’s no time limit to applying for the benefit, plus laws are constantly changing, so what they weren’t eligible to receive a decade ago, they may be eligible to receive now.”
Orange County Veterans Services deals directly with both the Veterans Health Administration, which provides primary and specialized care, as well as related medical and social support services to veterans; and the Veterans Benefits Administration, which provides financial and other forms of assistance to veterans and their dependents. Identifying earned benefits can be overwhelming, which is why Veterans Service Officers do everything they can to reach as many veterans as possible.
“Getting the benefit for the veteran is my ultimate goal,” said Maldonado. “I’ve worked with some of these former service members for over a decade, and they’ve become my friends. You get to know everything about them … their families, financial and medical situations … and there’s a strong bond that develops. You can’t imagine how appreciative they are when you help them; it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Maldonado’s message to veterans: “Don’t assume you don’t qualify. It doesn’t matter what branch of service you were in or how long you served. Come in and let’s figure it out together.”
For more information on Orange County Veterans Services, its office locations and the benefits veterans may qualify for; or if you would like to have an Orange County Veteran’s Service Officer come out and speak to your employees, go to Orange County Veterans Services’ webpage at www.ocfl.net/veterans or call 407-836-8990.