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 at 317-916-3605 shortly after 7:30 AM on their service officer’s call days. We will then place the caller’s 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. So we may keep our phone lines open for veterans needing advice concerning their claims and/or appeals, we encourage veterans to contact the VA toll free phone line at 1-800-827-1000 for simple claim or appeal status inquires.
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
Office Visits by Appointment Only: Please call 317-916-3605 for an appointment before visiting the office.
Call Days – Mondays and Fridays
Client Appointment Days – Thursdays
Pre-hearing Conferences and Casework Days – Wednesdays
Casework Days – Tuesdays
A, B, F through I, and R & W
Call Days – Tuesdays and Thursdays
Client Appointment Days – Wednesdays
Pre-hearing Conferences and Casework Days – Mondays
Casework Day – Fridays
D, J through O, T, S
Call Days – Mondays and Fridays
Client Appointment Days – Tuesdays
Pre-hearing Conference and Casework Days – Wednesdays
Casework Days – Thursdays
E, U, V, P, Q, X, Y, Z and Supervisory Responsibilities
Client Dall Days – Tuesdays and Thursdays
Client Appointment Days – Mondays
Pre-hearing Conference and Casework Days – Wednesdays
Casework Days – Fridays
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.
The American Legion’s department service office processes and reviews thousands of claims every year, winning hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits for veterans that they would likely not have received without American Legion representation.
Although the service office would like to take full credit for these achievements, we can’t. We would not have near the success for veterans without help from our service network partners. This service network also includes post, district, county and state service officers as well as our national appeals representatives.
Veterans’ services s tart at the post level. Our post service officers learn about all the various veterans benefit programs. They provide that information to their post members and other veterans within their local communities. They do this when talking with individual veterans at their posts, making benefits presentations at post meetings, posting benefits information on the post website, and writing short articles in their post newsletters.
American Legion district service officers help make sure each American Legion post appoints a service officer, makes sure post service offices know when and where post service officer training sessions are held, makes short veterans’ benefits presentations at district meetings, and arranges veterans’ benefit seminars within their districts.
M any county veterans’ service officers have received American Legion accreditation. We rely on the CVSOs to make sure individual veterans apply for everything they are entitled to. They help the veteran know what evidence is necessary to support their claims, assist the veteran with completing benefit applications, and assign a service organization as the veteran’s representative. These CVSOs, however, often have other duties and responsibilities assigned to them by their employers, the county governments.
American Legion department service officers are full-time employees of the American Legion. They are trained in the intricate details of veterans’ law and regulations. After veterans appoint The American Legion as their representatives, DSOs help make sure VA processes their claims properly and issues correct decisions.
The DSOs also assist with appeals by representing veterans at hearings and providing written appeals briefs when necessary. They often win veterans substantially more benefits than those veterans who have not appointed themselves professional representation.
The DSOs also answer veterans’ service-related questions from post, district and county veterans’ service officers, and veterans. The department service office also conducts veterans’ benefits seminars, distributes veterans’ benefits information, and helps train post, district, and county veterans’ service officers.
Legion Rapport with VA
The American Legion also partners with the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs. The State of Indiana has purchased an electronic veterans claims management system that DSOs use to receive claims and evidence from county veterans service officers. The IDVA is also responsible for the training of county veterans service officers.
Our American Legion appeals representatives in Washington D.C. provide informal presentations to the Board of Veterans Appeals, and assist veterans when at their BVA hearings in Washington D.C. The national organization of The American Legion also provides training seminars for department service officers.
Veterans win big when every part of the service network works together. Our veterans service network, however, starts at the post level making, the post service officer the most important service network link.
The Department Service Office can often win additional benefits after veterans file their claims. However, the DSO would never have an opportunity to work the claims if not for the post service officers in the field, informing veterans of their benefits and referring them to the department service office for claims assistance.
Legion members should get to know their post service officers. If your post has not appointed an active post service officer, ask your post commander about making that appointment. None of us want our veterans’ services network to end for any veteran, before it begins.
Service Office Updates
The American Legion Department of Indiana Veterans Service Office consists of a staff of seven full-time employees responsible for ensuring veterans receive 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.
Agent Orange Exposure for Service in Thailand
For disability benefits purposes, VA will assume Agent Orange exposure for veterans who served in Vietnam, but other veterans must prove actual exposure. A veteran, who did not serve in Vietnam but did serve in Thailand, filed a claim for service connection of an Agent Orange related disability in April 2015. He had claimed Agent Orange exposure, but VA denied his claim.
While working the veteran’s appeal, through research, Department Service Officer Bryce Hullett found a manual entitled, “Army Employment of Herbicides,” dated December 1971. The manual gave guidelines for spraying Agents Blue, White, and Orange, and explained that it must not be sprayed any closer than 500 meters to avoid damage to desirable vegetation. During a Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) video conference hearing, Bryce helped the veteran convince the BVA law judge that the veteran was within that 500 meter area when serving in Thailand.
This decision resulted in the veteran receiving $46,488 in retroactive pay, a monthly benefit of $3,518, and many other benefits associated with having a permanent 100% service-connected compensation rating.
Bryce had also previously helped this veteran win prior claims for a non-service connected pension and then service connection for a mental health condition and prior retroactive benefits of $130,976 and $84,488.
The veteran would have likely not have received most of these benefits without the help of a caring American Legion Service Officer.
Rating Decision Review Saves Benefits
Upon review of a VA decision denying a veteran a 100% Individual Un-employability (IU) rating simply because the veteran failed to supply the proper form, Department Service Officer Bryce Hullett immediately contacted the Allen County Service officer for a copy of that IU application.
After hand carrying the form to the rating official and receiving no response, Bryce followed up by reporting his concern to the VA Service Center Manger’s Office. On the same day, VA granted the veteran’s 100% IU rating resulting in a $5,902 retroactive benefit payment, a monthly payment of $3,068 plus additional benefits associated with being 100% service connected disabled.
Without the help of a knowledgeable service officer, this veteran may have never received the 100% rating due to a simple error.
Service Officer’s Patience Wins Big Benefits for Veteran
Most, but not all, veterans are very cooperative, considerate of others, and would rather give more than they take. Not all though, including sometimes those who are suffering from a serious mental illness.
Department Service Officer Bryce Hullett represented one such veteran with his claim. This veteran was a routine caller to the office, and our office file recorded notes of rudeness and personal threats.
Bryce allowed for the veteran’s mental illness, and talked with him on a weekly basis while the veteran would vent frustration towards the VA and Bryce himself. The veteran’s appeal had gone to the Board of Veterans Appeals and was remanded to the VA regional office for consideration of granting benefits on extra-scheduler bases.
Bryce then participated in a lot of coordination with the Appeals Team, Decision Review Officers, VA Coaches, and the VA Service Center Manager resulting in a grant of a 100% rating retroactive from July 1, 2008, with a retroactive payment of $267,840 and a continued monthly benefit of $3,068.
Without the patience and understanding of a carrying service officer, this veteran would have likely never won his appeal.
Found Error Wins Veteran Additional VA Compensation Benefits plus Retroactive Entitlement to DOD Concurrent Receipt Pay
We are often asked why The American Legion Veterans Service Office requires appointments. Walk-in service may appear convenient and to offer better service, but veterans deserve more than just a brief interview as the service officer may get to the next of several walk-in visitors waiting for his attention.
The American Legion Service Office sets aside an entire uninterrupted hour for each scheduled appointment. This gives veterans the time they need to discuss their claims and/or appeals, and provides service officers sufficient time to review all the evidence, discuss what is necessary to win benefits, complete the necessary forms, and often help apply for additional benefits.
The following is an excellent example:
During the 2016 Department Convention, a veteran asked Department Service Officer Steve Hicks to review the veteran’s VA claim file to make sure VA had made the correct decisions. The veteran was represented by another service organization, but we could accept the veteran’s representation appointment since he did not have any current appeals or claims pending.
We then scheduled the veteran an office appointment. During the appointment, Steve discussed the veteran’s benefits, and conducted a thorough review of the veteran’s electronic claim file including past VA rating decisions. Steve detected a clear and unmistakable error (CUE) in a September 2013 VA decision that assigned only a 0% rating for the veteran’s service-connected tinnitus retroactive from November 16, 2011.
Steve immediately filed the CUE claim. VA agreed, corrected the error, and established a 10% rating for the veteran’s tinnitus retroactive from the original date in November 2011.
This action had “big” consequences! Before the error was corrected, the veteran’s combined compensation rating was only 40%. The veteran is a military retiree. The law allows the government to withhold the amount of VA compensation paid from a military retiree’s retirement pay if the VA compensation rating is less than 50%. Now this veteran will receive all his military retirement pay, with a combination of retirement and concurrent receipt pay, not only for future benefits, but retroactive from November 2011.
This veteran will see a $265 increase in his monthly VA compensation benefits, a retroactive VA benefit over $15,000, plus refund of all withholding from his military retirement pay retroactive from November 2011. He will also receive his future DoD military retirement benefits without the VA compensation benefit offset.
Without having time set aside for our knowledgeable service officers to thoroughly interview veterans and review their records, this veteran would have likely gone without his entitled benefits.
Independent Medical Evidence Can Win Claims
A veteran had been rated 100% service connected for prostate cancer. Following the statutory end of the 6-month 100% compensation rating after a prostatectomy placing the cancer in remission, VA proposed reducing the veteran’s compensation rating from 100% to 0%. The veteran requested a hearing and supplied additional evidence by having his private doctor complete a VA Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ).
While preparing for the hearing, Department Service Officer John Hickey discussed the private medical evidence with the hearing officer. The DBQ showed the veteran must wear absorbent material and change that absorbent material more than 4 times a day due to leakage associated with the prostate removal. The hearing officer agreed this meets the requirement for a 60% compensation rating instead of the proposed 0%. The veteran also agreed to accept the 60% rating as a full grant of the issue on appeal without having to report for a hearing.
This veteran will therefore receive a $1,165 monthly compensation benefit that he may not had obtained without knowing to supply private medical evidence and having qualified representation.
Service Officer Wins Veteran an Additional One Year Retroactive Benefit Based on VA Liberalization of Law Regulation
The VA received a veteran’s claim for service connection of a heart condition on September 16, 2016, and granted service connection at 30% effective from the date of claim. Normally this would have been the correct effective date, but Department Service Officer Steve Hicks knew that the law allowing VA to grant service connection for an ischemic heart disease (IHD) due to Agent Orange exposure became effective on August 31, 2010. He also found evidence in the veteran’s records that he was diagnosed with the IHD in 2002 before the effective date of the law.
Steve then asked VA to properly apply VA Regulation 38 CFR 3.114 stating “If a claim is reviewed at the request of the claimant more than 1 year after the effective date of the law or VA issue, benefits may be authorized for a period of 1 year prior to the date of receipt of such request.” VA agreed, changed the effective date to September 16, 2015, and paid the veteran an additional $4,893 in retroactive compensation benefits.
Service Officer Reminds Distant VA Claims Rater to Grant Benefits from the Intent to File Notice Date
The VA granted a veteran a 100% compensation rating effective from the date VA received his formal claim. Department Service Officer Steve Hicks, however, found that the veteran had filed an “Intent to File” notice 11 months before filing the formal claim. Even though VA’s National Work Queue process caused a VA rater in Roanoke, Virginia to work this claim, Steve found a way to contact that rater and convince him to grant the effective date 11 months before the formal claim date. The 100% rating pays $2,319.47 per month. Therefore, the earlier effective date brought the veteran a retroactive benefit of $25,514.17.
The veteran would have most likely not have received this large retroactive benefit without the services of a well-qualified representative.
Highlights of Benefits Won
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.