Dealing with the VA and making sure you get the benefits and services you need can be tricky, luckily you have a friend at VetsFirst.
Lynn Kelly had been married to her husband, Gerard, for 42 years and was no stranger to navigating the world of his Veterans benefits, but when he passed earlier this year she was overwhelmed. “I’d never been through anything like this before,” she says, “There were so many decisions and I had so much else going on.”
To help her figure things out, she called Christine Golden, the national service director for VetsFirst and her husband’s case worker since 2006. Golden got Kelly her DIC (Dependency Indemnity Compensation) and burial benefits and helped her understand issues around veterans mortgage insurance. Kelly had watched other friends wait upwards of a year to get benefits and was surprised how quickly Golden resolved all of her issues. “Christine has been a godsend,” says Kelly. “She really has been here for me. She has gone above and beyond, constantly calling me and making sure I got everything I needed and deserved.”
Kelly’s experience is not unique for VetsFirst clients. The VetsFirst staff prides itself on going above and beyond to ensure everyone who submits a problem via Ask VetsFirst or calls the offices, gets their issues fully resolved.
“All of my clients are friends of mine,” says Johnny Parker, VetsFirst’s veterans service officer. “I genuinely care about all of them.”
Jerry Ridgley, a Marine veteran from the Vietnam era, is one of those friends. Ridgely, who lives in Philadelphia, came to VetsFirst early this year with no disability rating and a growing number of serious medical issues. On top of that the city was threatening to foreclose on his home. Parker remembers Ridgely’s first visit to the VetsFirst office vividly. “He was totally distraught,” says Parker. “He wasn’t getting the answers or the help he needed from the VA or the VA Medical Center.” Parker didn’t waste any time. “I saw that he was in desperate need of attention, so I called the VA Medical Center and I told them I was sending him back there and someone needed to see him today and that I was putting in a claim for some disabilities.”
Parker’s review netted him a 100 percent disability rating and paved the way for much needed medical attention. “I’ve been in and out of the hospital with no billing to me whatsoever,” says Ridgely. “I’m talking 100s of 1000s of dollars because I had a triple bypass and then I got a major heart attack.”
Parker also helped resolve the outstanding issues with the city and got him a Veterans Temporary Assistance loan to help Ridgely catch up on mortgage payments. Parker talks with Ridgely almost every week now. “We got him even keel and stable and we’re just rocking out from there,” he says.
That level of personal attention even applies to clients who find VetsFirst through the internet and the Ask VetsFirst portal. Yvonne Snyder is one of the thousands of clients whose road to help started by clicking on Ask VetsFirst. Snyder’s husband, who served in the Navy, passed Aug. 23 and she didn’t know what she was eligible for. She is thankful she overcame her initial skepticism of VetsFirst. “I didn’t know if VetsFirst was a real organization,” she says. “Then once I stated talking with Christine I realized it was legitimate. Everything went so fast and so smooth. I really thought things were going to take months but she had all the info I needed and everything went so fast. Now I’m all set.”
Now, Snyder has Golden’s phone number saved in her contacts. “If anything happens with any of my friends, this is the number they’re going to get,” she says.
— Ian Ruder,