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.
B, and D through E, and S Client Call Days – Mondays and Wednesday
Client Appointment Days – Thursdays
Prehearing Conferences and Casework Days – Friday
Casework Days – Tuesdays
A, F through I, and R @ W
Client Call Days – Tuesdays and Thursdays
Client Appointment Days – Wednesdays
Prehearing Conferences and Casework Days – Monday
Casework Day – Fridays
J through O
Client Call Days – Monday and Wednesday
Client Appointment Days – Tuesday
Prehearing Conference and Casework Days – Friday
Casework Days – Thursdays
C, P, Q, T, U, V, X, Y, Z
Client Call Days – Tuesdays and Thursdays (C call day now moved from Mondays and Wednesdays to Tuesday and Thursdays)
Client Appointment Days – Mondays
Prehearing Conference and Casework Days – Wednesdays
Casework Days – Fridays
Supervision and Management, Outreach, Public and Organization Communications, Training, Special and/or Security Level Claims, County Veterans Service Officer Calls,
Budgeting, Planning, and Special Projects
Many post service officers volunteer much of their time assisting veterans within their local communities. American Legion posts may nominate their post service officer for an award by completing and returning a Post Service Officer Award nomination form to the American Legion Department Service Office by March 23rd of each year. Click button below to download the form.
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.
Department Veterans Service Office May Business Hours: The department service office will be closed for Memorial Day on, Monday, May 29th. The office is otherwise open each Monday through Friday from 7:30 AM until 4:00 PM during the month of May. 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:
Legion Day: The American Legion, Department of Indiana Legion Day will take place on Sunday, September 10, 2017 from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM at the Department Headquarters, 5440 Herbert Lord Road, Indianapolis, Indiana. The event will include kid friendly games; putt-putt golf; chili cook-off; horseshoes; a variety of soft drinks; and a 9/11 patriot observance. In addition, The American Legion Veterans Service Office will offer veterans benefits information, and VA claims filing and representation services. Legionnaires are encouraged to bring the whole family for a cost free day of fun and information.
Post Service Officers Attend Service Officer Training Seminar: American Legion department service officers conducted a training seminar for post service officers immediately following the department convention on Sunday, July 16, 2017. Those present received information to help post members and other veterans within their local communities better understand veterans benefits as well as where, when and how to apply for those benefits. These dedicated volunteers help further the goals of The American Legion by selflessly giving their time in service to other veterans, their dependents and survivors. Their efforts will allow many more veterans to lean about life changing benefits. Hats off to the following post service officers and post representatives for attending the seminar:
Joseph Fuller, Post 4; Rick Baum, Post 79; Richard Jones, Post 150; Jesse R. Booker, Post 148; Turner Nolan, Post 18; Sue Hunt, Post 42, and Luther H. Nixon, Post 354.
Veterans Services at the Department Fall Conference: The American Legion Department Fall Conference will take place at the Marriott Hotel, 7202 East 21st Street, Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday, October 7. Department Service Officers will staff the veterans’ services and benefits information table in the lobby. During the Veterans Assistance Meeting, Bill Pease, Health Insurance Coordinator with ASPIN Health Services, will discuss how ASPIN offers free health insurance navigation services. The American Legion Department of Indiana General Hospital, Indiana Veterans Home, Veterans Employment, Homeless Veterans, and Nursing Home committees will also discuss their areas of veterans’ services. American Legion members may attend these free informative events.
Service Office Updates
National Veterans Service Issues:
VA Mental Health Care Now Available for Veterans with Other Than Honorable Discharges: Veterans having other-than-honorable (OTH) discharges are not normally eligible for VA health care services. Due to the high suicide rate for veterans, VA will now allow some veterans with OTH discharges access to emergency mental health stabilization care. Effective July 5, all Veterans Health Administration (VHA) medical centers began offering emergency stabilization care for former service members who present at the facility with an emergent mental health need thought related to military service. Under this initiative, former service members with an OTH administrative discharge may receive care for their mental health emergency for an initial period of up to 90 days, that can include inpatient, residential or outpatient care. VA can provide this care at the VA emergency room, a VA Vet Center, or through the veterans’ crisis line. This service is limited to 90 days unless VA determines the mental health condition is the result of a service–related injury. Not all former service persons will receive care, however; this initiative still bars individuals with a dismissal, dishonorable discharge, or bad conduct discharge from a general court-martial. After the veteran begins receiving services, VA will conduct an administrative review of the discharge for VA benefits purposes. If VA holds the discharge as a continued bar for services, VA will bill for services rendered. (See VA Fact Sheet, June 2017)
VA Agrees to Pay Many Previously Denied Emergency Medical Expense Claims: In a congressional hearing on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, VA Secretary David Shulkin announced that VA would "voluntarily withdraw" its appeal in the legal case, Staab v. Shulkin, that required VA to reimburse veterans the costs of receiving private emergency medical care when VA facilities were not reasonably available. Also on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, Secretary Shulkin announced that the VA has drafted a regulation to authorize payment for Staab related claims, and has sent the regulation to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Draft regulations must clear OMB and be published in the Federal Register before VA can begin reimbursements. VA estimates that this process could take at least 9 months. Veterans having VA claims or appeals pending for reimbursement or payment of private medical expenses incurred in a medical emergency anytime since the “Emergency Care Fairness Act” was passed in 2009, could eventually receive payment.
Other veterans should refile and ask the VA Medical Center to reconsider their claims based upon the ruling in Staab v. Shulkin and the VA Secretary’s June 14, 2017 decision to accept that decision and withdraw VA’s appeal;
(1) The veteran had been enrolled in the VA healthcare system,
(2) The veteran received VA healthcare services within two years of having a medical emergency requiring private healthcare service, and
(3) Since 2009, VA had previously denied the veteran’s claim for payment of those expenses due to part of the bill being paid by a third party.
General Motors (GM) Military Discount Program: GM will provide eligible military members substantial discounts on the purchase of new Chevrolet, Buick and GMC vehicles. Eligible military members include active duty members, reservists, National Guard members, veterans within one year of their discharge date, and military retirees – including their spouses – of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, Corps and Cost Guard. Those interested may sign in or register at: gmmilitarydiscount.com/americanlegion then select “Get Authorization Number” from the program menu and follow the prompts, the print your authorization number and take it to your participating GM Dealer, along with a copy of your current Leave and Earrings Statement (LES), Retiree Account Statement, or your discharge papers (e.g. DD Form 214).
Veterans Online Shopping Benefit: The Department of Defense will soon grant on line exchange shopping privileges to veterans of the United States Armed Forces. You may go to vetveritfy.org and submit a verification form to check your eligibility. Learn more at: shopmyexchange.com/veterans.
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.
Service Officer Reminds VA it Must Consider all Theories of Service Connection: Veterans may obtain service connection based upon several rules (theories): Direct, Aggravation, Presumptive, Secondary, and/or Paired Organs or extremities even if the veteran’s claim notes only one theory of service connection. Department Service Officer Steve Hicks is very familiar with the rules of service connection. While reviewing a VA rating decision, Steve discovered an error that could have resulted in the veteran failing to receive a lifetime of benefits. The veteran had filed a claim for service connection of a disability based upon it being caused by (secondary to) a condition VA had already service connected. VA denied his claim. Steve found evidence showing the claimed disability warrants direct service connection. He supplied that information to VA with a request for reconsideration. This resulted in VA conducting further review, granting “direct” service connection, increasing the veteran’s monthly benefits by $284, and paying a one-time retroactive benefit of $854. (V:46240)
Liberalizing Legislation Allows One Year Retroactive Benefit: If new law allows the grant of service connection for a disability, VA liberalizing legislation rules require VA to grant the veteran a one year retroactive benefit from the date of the claim if the law is more than one year old and evidence within the record shows the veteran had the medical condition at the earlier date. While reviewing a VA decision, Department Service Office Steve Hicks found the VA failed to grant a veteran this one year liberalizing legislation retroactive benefit even after the decision had gone through a VA quality review. Steve brought this to VA’s attention resulting in the veteran paying the veteran an additional one-time retroactive lump sum benefit of $4,893. The veteran would have never known he was entitled to the additional benefit without qualified representation. (V: 67456)
Drastic Benefit Reduction Averted: A veteran called the office in a panic and expressing ideations of suicide, after receiving notice from VA that his benefits would be cut from a very high Special Monthly Compensation rating “S” paying $3,263.43 per month to an 80% rate paying only $1,556.13 per month. VA had determined that his service connected disabilities had improved. Department Service Officer John Hickey immediate contacted the VA Regional Office Service Center Manager’s office. Even though evidence showed the veteran’s disabilities may have improve some, VA had failed in its duty to first consider if the severity of the disabilities would still prevent the veteran from employment warranting assignment of at least a 100% Individual Unemployability (IU) rating. Within a few days, VA granted the 100% IU rating saving the veteran $1,707.30 in reduce monthly benefits. (V:65560)
Quick Action Insures Payment of Large Benefit: An August 2017 VA decision had granted a veteran a 100% compensation rating with Special Monthly Compensation benefits. Department Service Officer Cathy Kynard learned the veteran’s condition was terminal, and helped notify VA accordingly. The same day, VA issued the veteran an award letter notifying him he would start receiving monthly disability compensation benefits of $3,529.53, and a one-time retroactive benefit of $17,398.60. Without Cathy’s immediate help, the veteran may not have received those VA benefits before his death. (V:12532)
Thorough Review of File Win’s Veteran Retroactive Benefits: While reviewing a VA rating decision and the veteran’s electronic claim file, Department Service Officer Cathy Kynard found that VA had mistakenly award benefits from the date of claim instead of from the date VA received the veteran’s Intent to file notice. Cathy brought this to VA’s attention, resulting in VA paying retroactive benefits amounting to $33,512.76. (V:17498)
Service Officer Finds VA Combined Rating Bilateral Factor Error: The VA combined disability compensation rating determines the amount of compensation paid. VA does not add each individual compensation rating together to find the combined rating. Instead, VA uses a complex combined rating table with bilateral factor rules for assigning the combined rating. Without going into too much detail, VA is to combine another 10% to ratings when the service connected disability effects paired extremities, i.e., the arms or legs. For instance, a veteran having a 10% disability rating for a right arm condition and a 10% disability rating for a left arm condition is assigned a combined rating of 19% plus a bilateral factor of 10% of 19 equaling 1.9%. The 19% and 1.9% is then added together with a sum of 20.9% rounded to 21%. With all that said, Department Service Officer Cathy Kynard found a rating in which VA failed to include the bilateral factor. In this particular rating it made a difference between VA assigning a 40% or a 50% combined rating. Cathy brought this to VA’s attention. VA agreed that it had made an error, and increased the veteran’s combined rating to 50%. This increased the veteran’s monthly compensation benefit by $265.52. This means VA will pay the veteran at least $3,186.24 more each year than it would have paid if not for being represented by a knowledgeable, well trained American Legion Service Officer. (V:33853)
Service Officer’s Persistence Wins Benefits: While reviewing a VA rating decision, Department Service Office Cathy Kynard noticed VA was about to deny a veteran’s claim for service connection of prostate cancer because he failed to supply a copy of a requested biopsy report. Before VA had a chance to send notice of the denial to the veteran, Cathy contacted the rating official. She asked if he could delay sending notice of the denial to the veteran. The VA rating official agreed to delay mailing notice to the veteran for one day to give Cathy a chance to obtain the biopsy report. Cathy immediately contacted the veteran who faxed a copy of the biopsy report to Cathy that same day. Cathy hand carried the report to present it to the rating official, but he had left early that day and another VA employee mailed notice of the denial to the veteran. Normally after a decision has become final by VA mailing notification to the veteran, the veteran must start the appeal process by filing a Notice of Disagreement. Cathy, did not want the veteran to enter an appeal process that could take years to resolve so she immediately contacted a VA supervisor, explained what happened, and presented the biopsy report as new evidence. VA declared the previous action of mailing the denial letter an error, and granted service connection based upon the new evidence. This action resulted in VA increasing the veteran’s recurring monthly compensation benefit by $705 and paying him a one-time retroactive benefit of $19,512. Without the presentence of a qualified and compassionate service officer, the veteran may have never received his rightful entitlement or, at least, may have had to wait years for payment of benefits. (V: 47707)
Thorough Review of Medical Records Good Partnership with VA Wins Benefits: Department Service Officer Cathy Kynard contacted a veteran at the request of a VA social worker. Cathy learned that VA had denied the veteran’s claim for service connection of hearing loss because he failed to report for a compensation examination. The veteran explained that he is 90 years of age, unable to drive, and did not have a way to make the appointment. Cathy reviewed the veteran’s medical records, and found several audiometric exam reports showing the veteran had profound hearing loss. Cathy brought this information to the attention of VA. She asked VA to not only reschedule the exam but to provide the veteran transportation. VA agreed. This action resulted in VA granting service connection for the veteran’s hearing loss and increasing his monthly compensation benefits by $705. Without Cathy’s help, the veteran might have never received the increase in his benefits. (V:68223)
Properly Written Lay Statements Can Win Benefits: A veteran contact Department Service Officer Cathy Kynard. He explained that VA had reduced the rating for his migraine headaches from 50% to 30%. Cathy discussed with the veteran how he could ask for reconsideration with new evidence, such as, supporting lay statements. Cathy also provided the veteran written instructions pertaining to writing a supporting statement himself, and obtaining statements from others, such as, his close friend and co-workers. Cathy was soon able to supply the claim for reconsideration along with lay statements to VA. This resulted in VA reinstating the 50% rating for the veteran’s migraine headaches. Without help from a well-qualified and knowledgeable American Legion Service Officer, this veteran’s monthly benefits would have likely been reduced by $483. (V:47125)
Long Pending Appeal Resolved Without Hearing: A veteran had an appeal pending for a higher disability rating for his back condition, and had been waiting several years for a hearing. Department Service Office Cathy Kynard discussed the appeal with a VA rating official, and had found a way VA could grant a higher rating based upon evidence showing the veteran’s back condition caused bilateral lower extremity radiculopathy (leg pain and numbness). The rating official was willing to grant the benefit, but would have to wait for the scheduling of the hearing unless the veteran would withdraw his hearing request. Cathy contacted the veteran who agreed to withdraw the hearing request. VA then granted the appeal retroactively. This action resulted in the veteran receiving a retroactive benefit payment of $60,078 without having to wait for a hearing. Without Cathy’s help, the veteran would have had to wait longer for the scheduling of a hearing, and he may or may not have been granted the benefit after proving testimony. (V:35911)
Service Officer’s Knowledge of VA Rating Schedule Benefits Veteran: While reviewing a VA rating decision, Department Service Officer Stephen Hicks notice VA had reduced a veteran’s compensation rating to only 20% following the assignment of a temporary 100% compensation rating after a service connected knee replacement surgery. Steve knew VA’s rating schedule requires a 30% minimum rating following a temporary 100% rating after knee replacement surgery. Steve brought this to the VA rater’s attention who agreed and immediately increased the rating from 20% to 30%. This action resulted in the veteran receiving $180 more in monthly compensation benefits than he would of if the veteran did not have qualified knowledgeable representation. (V:65264)
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.