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More information on benefits available to veterans

WASHINGTON—Military veterans are eligible for a wide range of benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, including health care, disability compensation, burial and survivor benefits, education and home loans.

For more information, contact:

_U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1-800-827-1000, or go to www.va.gov.

_Your state or county department of veterans services. For a list of state offices, go to www.va.gov/partners/stateoffice/index.htm. For a list of county offices, contact the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers at www.nacvso.org/.

_A nonprofit veterans service organization. To find one, go to www1.va.gov/vso/.

Disability compensation is paid to veterans because of injuries or diseases that happened while on active duty or were made worse by active military service.

The VA assigns a degree of disability based on what it considers the average loss in wages in civilian occupations resulting from these diseases, injuries and their complications. To be eligible, veterans must provide proof that the disability is related to their military service, such as military records, doctors' opinions and statements from others in their units.

Veterans applying for VA benefits can get help from various sources, including counselors who are VA employees, veterans service officers who may work for a national veterans charity or a state or county veterans affairs department. It's a violation of VA rules for service officers to request payments, donations or membership in return for their help.

Some lawyers may provide help, but VA rules generally prohibit them from receiving payment unless the claim has reached the Board of Veterans' Appeals and has been denied.

Experts suggest that veterans shop around before signing a power of attorney with a service officer. Besides seeking references from other veterans, some questions to ask:

_How much training and experience do you have?

_What's your approach to researching and building a claim? How much work will you do, and how much will I be responsible for?

_Is this your full-time job or do you handle claims only occasionally?

_How many claims are you handling and will you have time to take on my claim?

_What's your success rate in handling my type of claim?

_What resources does your organization have if my claim is denied and I need to appeal?

To find a service officer, contact your state or county veterans affairs department or one of the national veterans charities.

"The Veterans Self-Help Guide on VA Claims" is a useful resource and available from the National Veterans Legal Services Program and can be ordered online for $7.50 at www.nvlsp.org/publicationslist.htm.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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