Morgan County vets get help to apply for benefits

9:17 PM, Jan 7, 2013   |    comments
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Until this week, Morgan County was one of only three Tennessee counties that didn't employee a certified officer to help disabled veterans get their benefits. 

But now, 1,800 area vets have someone on their side to make cutting through the red tape easier.



They celebrated a year and a half of effort Monday afternoon at the American Legion Post 149 building in Wartburg.

Newly hired Veteran Service Officer Selena Patterson cut the ribbon.

"I served two tours in Iraq and I am actually a 50% disabled veteran myself, so I understand the process," says Patterson.

She will spend Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9-5 at the American Legion building helping veterans with their paperwork and questions.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she'll travel throughout the county, visiting home bound vets.

Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Commissioner Don Smith says having an advocate who knows the ropes can be critical.

"The road to obtaining those benefits can often be difficult. The VA benefits are complicated," says Smith. "[There's] no words to describe how important that is to our veterans."

Post 149 Commander Bill Podewils was a driving force behind Patterson's hiring.

"It's been a long battle," but he says it's helping to fulfill a promise, says Podewils. "These are not entitlements. These are benefits that these veterans earned by their service defending our country."

He says many veterans in Morgan County currently live below the poverty level. Rather than spend money on gas to drive to Knoxville and see a service officer, Podewils says they went without.

Much of their funding comes from the county. Podewils says they got $10,000 to pay Patterson through June.

Then he says they'll need to go back before commissioners in hopes of doubling that expenditure to make the position permanent and full time.


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