Department Service Office
Indiana is home to some of the best service officers in the nation. Accredited American Legion service officers are specially trained to provide expert assistance, free of charge, to veterans and their families.
While the majority of a service officer’s work involves application for VA disability benefits, these compassionate professionals also provide information, referrals and resources on education, employment and business, death benefits and other important topics.
Service Officer Resources
Department Service Office
575 N. Pennsylvania St. Room 325,
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: (317) 916-3605
Fax: (317) 916-3406
Our department service office caseload assignments are divided by the first letter of the veteran’s last name as shown below. Also as show below, our service officers’ duty assignments differ each day. Veterans needing to contact their assigned service officer should call the office (317-916-3605) shortly after 7:30 AM on one of the service officer’s call days. We will then place their name on a call-back list for receiving a returned call at a given time the same day.
Veterans working with county veterans’ service officers are encouraged to call their county veterans service office first and then call our office only if the county veterans’ service officer cannot answer the concern or inquiry. This is necessary due to the large number of veterans we serve throughout the state, and our efforts to keep local county veterans service officers involved and informed with the processing of claims for veterans within their counties.
Department Service Office Staff
A, B, F through I, R & W
Call days – Tuesday and Thursdays
Client appointment day – Wednesday
Pre-hearing conferences and casework day – Monday
Casework day – Friday
C, D, J through O, S & T
all days – Monday and Fridays
Client appointment day – Tuesdays
Pre-hearing conference day & casework day – Wednesdays
Casework day – Thursdays
E, P, Q, U, V, X, Y, Z, and Supervisory Duties
Client call days – Tuesdays and Thursdays
Client appointment day – Mondays
Pre-hearing conference day & case work day – Wednesdays
Casework day – Friday
Department Veterans Service Office January Business Hours: The Department Service Office will be closed for the New Year Holiday on, Monday, January 2nd, and for Martin Luther King Day on Monday, January 16th. This office will otherwise be open each Monday through Friday from 7:30 AM until 4:00 PM during the month of January. Appointments are necessary for client visits. You may contact the department service office by calling our direct number of 317-916-3605; calling a long distance toll free number of 1-888-723-7999, extension 1; faxing us at 317-916-3406; or by using the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local Veterans Service Issues:
Post Service Officers Training Seminar, Attention: Post Service Officers and Post Commanders:
Place and Time: During the Mid-Winter Conference, Saturday, January 14th, from 8:00 AM until Noon, Salon A, Marriott Hotel, 7202 East 21st Street, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Topics: Post service officers’ duties and responsibilities; ethics; the rehab program; homeless veterans program; Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA); claims representation; veterans service and membership; avoiding common mistakes; replacing the DD Form 214; helping veterans find supporting evidence; veterans employment issues; other resource for veterans; state veterans benefits; overview of VA compensation, pension and medical benefits; the National Personnel Records Center; and, time permitting, an open panel discussion session with department service officers.
Added Resources: Service officers may also find our post service officers’ online home study course by opening the Department website at: https://www.indianalegion.org/, clicking “Services” then “Department Service Office,” and then clicking “Service Officer Training Manual.” Service officers may then also complete the Service Officer Workbook and Test and receive a Certificate of Completion signed by the Department Commander
Why and How: This seminar will help American Legion posts assist its members with veterans benefit issues, and improve membership through services. Pre-registration is not required. All post service officers, especially new post service officers, are encouraged to attend. The training session is free, but attendees will likely incur costs associated with travel and lodging. Active post service officers volunteer much of their time while assisting post members. Post may now help their service officers by sponsoring their attendance at this training session, and then reap the benefit of their service officer’s increased knowledge.
Department Service Officer David Wilson Retires Following More than 21 Years of Service: David walked into the American Legion Department of Indiana Veterans Service Office as a Department Service Officer for the first time on August 7, 1995. He will leave that office for retirement more than 21 years later after serving his last day on Tuesday, January 3, 2017. Dave has seen many changes over the years: from typewriters, metal desks, cardboard office dividers, and hard copy VA claim files, to state-of-the-art computer equipment, modern office furniture, electronic file storage and claims filing systems, and, best of all, a reputation for providing exceptional veterans’ services. Just for fun, we tried to calculate (very rough estimate) a few things David has done over the years. He has:
Service Office Updates
The American Legion Department of Indiana Veterans Service Office employees a staff of seven full time employees responsible for ensuring veterans received their earned benefits. The following are a few examples of benefits won that veterans might not have otherwise received if not for our department service office staff.
Benefits Restored with Excellent Representation: VA had previously granted service connection for a veterans’ diabetes based upon its relationship to Agent Orange exposure while the veteran was serving in Vietnam. An April 22, 2014 VA decision then severed service connection for the diabetes stating that the previous decision granting service connection was in error because records failed to show the veteran served in Vietnam. In December 2015, the veteran asked for American Legion representation.
Department Service Officer Steve Hicks reviewed the evidence of record and interviewed the veteran. Steve also conducted research and found that the ship the veteran served on (the USS Okinawa (LPH-3) operated as a troop transport with helicopters and smaller vessels transporting troops on and off shore for amphibious assaults, with evidence that crew members went ashore to assist civilians during the time the veteran served aboard that ship. Steve then helped the veteran write a statement about how he was part of a six man team that would leave the ship for providing indirect fire with their assigned 81mm Mortar.
Steve then convinced VA that the veteran’s statement is consistent with the ship’s history, and VA restored service connection for the diabetes and its residuals. This resulted in the veteran receiving a one-time retroactive compensation benefit of over $13,000 and continued monthly compensation benefits of $558. Without qualified representation, the veteran would likely not have been able to have his benefits reinstate. (V: 60031)
Claim file reviews can find Clear and Unmistakable (CUE) VA Errors: A veteran has only one year to file a notice of disagreement with a VA decision before that VA decision becomes final. Once a VA decision becomes final, the veteran must submit “new and material evidence” before VA will make another decision concerning the same issue. An exception to this rule is when VA had made a “clear and unmistakable error” (CUE) in a decision that has since become final. These are not ease errors to find.
Clear and unmistakable errors must be errors that are undebatable, so that it can be said that reasonable minds could only conclude that the previous decision was fatally flawed at the time it was made, and the error must be based upon the record and law that existed at the time of the prior decision. While reviewing a veteran’s claim file in March 2016,
Department Service Officer John Hickey found a CUE in a March 2013 VA decision that granted only a 10% compensation rating for a veteran’s heart condition. The March 2013 decision had granted the 10% rating based upon continuous medication being required for the veteran’s service connected heart condition, but John reminded VA that the evidence at the time also included an echocardiogram showing mild left atrial enlargement and the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities, Diagnostic code 7005, notes that cardiac hypertrophy or dilatation warrants at least a 30% compensation rating. VA agreed. On April 8, 2016,
VA declared the March 2013 decision a clear and unmistakable error resulting in the retroactive grant of the 30% rating effective from September 10, 2011 and a lump sum retroactive payment of $19,981.60. The veteran would have likely never and know to file the CUE claim without the qualified American Legion representation. (V: 15711)
Veterans having a 100% service connected compensation rating with other service connected disabilities independently rated at 60% or more are entitled Special Monthly Compensation benefits: While review a VA rating decision, Department Service Officer Stephen Hicks noticed that the veteran had been granted a 100% service connected compensation rating, had other service connected disabilities independently rated at 60%, but VA failed to grant the higher Special Monthly Compensation “S” rating under the provisions of 38 USC 114(s) and 38 CFR 3.350(i).
Steve immediately took this concern to the rating official who agreed and granted the SMC “S” rating. This quick action resulted in the veteran receiving an additional $346.84 per month. Without knowledgeable representation, the veteran would have likely never known of VA’s mistake, and would have likely been underpaid for years if not for a lifetime. (V:12722)
VA may sometimes over-develop for evidence then deny needlessly when that evidence is missing: VA denied a Korean war veteran’s claim for service connection of defective hearing after receiving notice that the veteran’s discharge examination report could not be found.
Department Service Officer Stephen Hicks argued that hearing examinations completed at the time the veteran was released from active duty were very inadequate for rating purposes, and those records could not be used to disprove the existence of a hearing impairment at service discharge even if VA could find the veteran’s discharge examination report.
Steve also argued that the veteran’s military duties in Korea would have exposed him to noise trauma, and that information alone should cause VA a duty to obtain a medical opinion concerning if the veteran’s current defective hearing is likely as not related to his noise exposure while serving in Korea. VA agreed, asked for the medical opinion, received a positive medical opinion, and granted service connection.
This resulted in the veteran receiving a monthly compensation
benefit of $133, a retroactive compensation benefit of $2,521, and other benefits, such as, entitlement to VA health care for any medical condition and a state of Indiana property tax exemption benefit. (V: 57764)
Severely disabled veteran gets quick pay rating action: Department Service Officer Steve Hicks received a claim for service connection of adrenal gland, lymph node, and sacral gland cancer. Understanding the obvious terminal risk the veteran was facing, Steve placed his inter-personal skills to work with VA team leaders, and convinced VA to work the claim as a “Quick Pay Claim.”
As a result, the claim received on June 28, 2016 was granted on June 29, 2016, and the veteran is now being paid a monthly benefit of $3,415.74. (V: 59746)Life Saving Action: Department Service Officer David Wilson is known for keeping veterans from committing suicide. David reports having another recent incident with a veteran threatening suicide. Dave reached out to appropriate sources and obtained the veteran life-saving help. (V: 58718)
Informal Conference Speeds Rating Action: While preparing for a hearing, Department Service Office Steve Hicks introduced new evidence to the hearing official during an informal conference prior to the hearing. The hearing official agreed that the new evidence warranted the grant of the higher compensation rating and immediately granted the increase from 60% to an 80% compensation rating.
Steve’s good professional relationship skills with VA regional office officials saved the veteran from having to attend a hearing, got a decision much sooner, and, best of all, allowed VA to grant the appeal. The veteran soon received a retroactive benefit payment of $7,078, and his monthly recurring compensation benefits were increased from $1,059 to $1,551. (VIMS 45857)
National Work Queue Brings Added Complications: Working with VA claims and reviewing VA rating decisions are complicated enough, and it has become even more complicated after VA lunched its National Work Queue (NWQ). For some time now, VA has been scanning veterans’ claim file records into an electronic records system called the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS).
VA’s NWQ system allows VA to instantly transfer those electronic records to any VA regional office in the United States. This process therefore allows VA to work those claims at the VA regional office having the most immediate resources. For instance, a claim filed by a Hoosier veteran may be transferred to the Washington State VA Regional Office (VARO) for gathering evidence (claims development) then transferred to another regional office, such as, the Louisville
VARO for a decision, then transferred to another VARO, say New Orleans, for award action.
This complicates the service officer’s job of tracking and viewing VA decisions and award actions. Not only are Hoosier veterans’ claims often worked at other VAROs, claims for veterans from other states are often worked at the Indianapolis VARO. While reviewing a veteran’s claim following an award action at the Indianapolis VARO, that was electronically decided (rated) at the Los Angeles VARO,
Department Service Officer Steve Hicks noticed VA had failed to grant an effective date from the date of VA’s receipt of an “Intent to file” notice instead of the date of claim. Steve found it difficult to track down the VA rating official because the rater who worked at a Los Angeles VARO using NWQ rules, placed an alias name in place of their real name on the rating code sheet. Steve therefore conducted research for “breaking the code” and finding the VA employee who made the decision. Steve then sent the VA rater an e-mail explaining how he believed a mistake was made.
The rater agreed, and immediately granted the earlier effective date consistent with receipt of the “Intent to file” notice and authorized an additional retroactive benefit of $1,447.71. Without qualified representation the veteran would have likely not ever received the higher retroactive benefit. Even more important, however, Steve shared his research findings with his associate service officers allowing them to also work VA’s NWQ system better by finding VA rating officials at other VA regional offices. By the way, the veteran happened to live in New York. (V: 6445)
Highlights of Benefits Won
The American Legion, Department of Indiana Cmdr. Larry Lowry recognizes members of the Veterans Affairs Indianapolis Regional Office and the Department Service Officer Staff for continued combined efforts together for the betterment of veterans’ lives. When Department Service Officer Assistant Director Dave Wilson received a frenzied phone call from a suicidal veteran last Nov. 30, 2015, he and his team, along with the VA sprung into immediate action. Wilson kept the veteran on the line, talking him down while Local social workers and law enforcement were dispatched to the veteran’s location. In short, their combined, immediate efforts saved the lives of this veteran and upgraded his disability claim with VA to provide him with the proper level of care.
Q: Describe the general mission of the Indiana Legion Veterans Service Office
A: We find that if not for the service organizations, and specifically the work we do in here, a lot of veterans wouldn’t even know about the benefits that their entitled to in the first place, let alone how to file for those benefits. We provide representation and claims filing assistance for veterans. We can help them with their paperwork, get their claim started, and give them some advice as to how to best win that claim. We follow the claim as it goes through the VA system. We work closely with VA. If we see they’ve made an error or have an issue, we address that immediately to best serve our clients, our veterans.
Q: Why file a claim? What benefits are available to me?
A: Filing a claim really opens up a lot of doors. If you’re service connected for a disability of 10 percent or more, VA health care services are available to you. You basically gain free medical coverage for just about anything. It opens the door to property tax exemption for wartime era veterans. And, if a veteran has as little as a zero percent service connected disability rating, they can get their children state paid tuition to state supported universities in Indiana. Filing a claim really opens a lot of doors to other benefits for our veterans.
Q: What can a veteran expect when filing a claim with The American Legion?
A: We first talk with the veteran to find out what it is they want to claim. We then advise them on the best evidence to gather to best win their claim. Lately, it’s been taking VA roughly four months to reach a decision on an initial application. As close as we work with VA, we will see the decision before the veteran does in most cases. We’ll send the veteran correspondence asking if they are satisfied with the VA’s decision or if they’d like to move forward with the claims process. If they do, we’ll take it from there.
Q: What happens if a benefit claim is denied by VA?
A: A lot of times, when a veteran files a claim on their own, and the VA denies it, the veteran will just accept it. In my case, the government told me what my rating was and I just accepted it. It wasn’t until later on that I discovered I was entitled to a much higher rating. That’s when I really started to become involved with the service organizations. Studies show that veterans that file their claims through a service organization receive up to 50 to 60 percent more than those that file on their own.
We work with veterans to gather as much paperwork and evidence necessary for VA to approve their claims. But, if a claim is denied, we will guide the veteran through the appeals process. If the veteran is dissatisfied with the VA’s decision then we help with the appeal process. We’ll help the veteran during hearings and, if necessary, we’ll take written briefs on the veteran’s behalf go to the Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington D.C.
Q: What advantages do veterans gain by filing VA claims through The American Legion
A: Our service officers are knowledgeable, experienced veterans. We work closely with the VA, in fact we share a hallway. If there is an issue or a mistake on a claim at this VA regional office, we can walk down the hall and talk to the adjudicator, the decision maker, the director, the assistant director, the service center manager, etc. We meet with those officials every month and we have a good working relationship. We work together for the benefit of veterans.
We also ensure our veterans get the medical benefits their entitled to at VA. We work the education systems and benefits, we cooperate with Work One and VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services. We really try to provide a full service and be knowledgeable about any benefits that veterans maybe entitled to help them file.
Q: What advice would you give to a veteran new to the claims process?
A: First thing a veteran needs to do is find a qualified veteran service officer and file with them. Please don’t file a claim on your own. It’s easy to make a lot of mistakes. The American Legion, Department of Indiana Service Office will file your claim for free regardless of whether you’re a member or not. We’re here to help you avoid mistakes and avoid years of going through the appeals process. We encourage veterans to come in and work with one of our service officers and use our expertise. We can offer advice and inside information on how to best file, the type of evidence required, how to word their statements, etc.
Q: What improvements are being made to expedite the VA claims process?
A: When I first started as a service officer, it was before computers. I can remember typewriters on the desks. We’ve been making the gradual change from paper filings to filing digitally. In the past, we’d have case files several inches thick with paperwork. Today, we have what’s called the Veterans Benefits Management System which allows us to scan in all documentation and reference a veteran across the country to see what information VS has on that individual. This simplifies and organizes the claims process for our veterans now more than ever. For a long time it took VA around two and a half years before they made an initial decision. Lately, VA has been really great about making these decisions in a timely matter. It now takes around four months.
Q: Anything to add?
A: We have a lot of hard working volunteers out there in communities across the state. Each American Legion post has a service officer. These officers can guide you with any questions and help you find the right outlets to file your claim.
So, gather as much paperwork as you have available to you regarding your claim. Be sure to bring your DD214. If you’re being discharged from service try to get copies of all of your service medical records. If it’s been a long time since you’ve been out of service, and you’re filing for something that occurred while you were actively serving, be sure to bring your civilian medical records.
It’s a privilege doing this work, and I really feel that if you asked anyone else in this office they would tell you the same thing. We really enjoy the work of helping veterans. Our veterans deserve it and they can use all the help they can get. Thank you.
About John Hickey
Shortly after high school, John was drafted as an infantryman in the U. S. Army and deployed to Vietnam. Roughly six months into his combat tour, he was shot twice and redeployed to the United States where he finished his two year active duty obligation at Fort Knox, Kentucky. John returned to school under VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation program and obtain and undergraduate degree in paralegal technology while working as veteran service officer. With more than 30 years’ experience, John is one of the nation’s top veterans service officers (VS0)s. He and this team of highly qualified experienced VSOs truly care about their mission; providing service to service members and veterans.