When people join the military, their lives become the military, especially during wartime. But while that mind-set is so important for those in service, transitioning back into civilization can be difficult. That’s why Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Bayside) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) sponsored a veterans information session on Monday to inform and assist Queens veterans at Maspeth High School.
“There are more than 40,000 nonprofits helping veterans,” Phoebe Gann of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association said. “Some are great and some are not so great but having an organization to support our veterans can really help them navigate through their lives.”
About 10 organizations such as SNAP, America Works, the Queens Library and the Department of Veteran Affairs were stationed at lunch tables throughout the school cafeteria.
“When you’re serving, the military encompasses your life,” Gann said. “It’s all you know and then it’s gone. That world that you’ve lived in is now gone.”
IAVA and a number of other veteran associations offer career services. The Queens Library offers computer and other technology courses to make veterans more hireable.
But the problem most veterans have doesn’t involve a career.
“The backlog of disability claims at the VA is a stain on the conscience of the country,” Meng said. “We must take action now to reduce the backlog, promote innovation and speed up the claims process. We’ve been working to ensure that the backlogs do not continue.”
Disability claims can take months and even years to be processed by the VA, leaving many veterans frustrated.
“You wait and wait,” Denny Meyer of the American Veterans for Equal Rights said. “It’s especially hard for us, the gay community. Before DOMA was overturned, you couldn’t get any benefits for your significant other.”
In order to speed up the claims process, the congresswoman introduced a bill that would hold the VA responsible for the backlog of claims
“In the first five minutes I’ve been here, I’ve already met so many soldiers who have come from serving our country, protecting our democracy day to day and they’re telling me that their claims are taking too long,” Meng said.
Crowley echoed similar concerns, adding that many veterans are unaware what assistance is available to them.
“So often, our offices have gotten phone calls from veterans in need of services and there are many services out there but the connection is not happening as much as we would like for the veteran in need,” Crowley said.
A representative from the VA acknowledged the backlog of health claims but assured attendees that the agency has made changes to make the processing more efficient. Most recently, the VA went paperless and is now accepting applications online.