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 through D, and S
Call Days – Mondays and Fridays
Client Appointment Days – Thursdays
Pre-hearing Conferences and Casework Days – Wednesdays
Casework Days – Tuesdays
A, F through I, R and W
Call Days – Tuesdays and Thursdays
Client Appointment Days – Wednesdays
Pre-hearing Conferences and Casework Days – Mondays
Casework Day – Fridays
J through O, T
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
Training, County Service Officer Call, Overflow Client Calls
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:
IVY Tech Veterans Resource Fair: On Wednesday, April 26, 2017 between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM Easterseals Crossroads and IVY TECH Community College will conduct a Veterans Resource Fair at its Indianapolis North Illinois Street and Fall Creek Boulevard location. The event will provide easy access to information including, but not limited to, employment, housing, family services, health, VA claims assistance, education, and various mentoring and counseling opportunities. American Legion Department Service Officer Tony Cross will provide veterans benefits information.
Terre Haute Job Fair: WorkOne Western Indiana, the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, and the Indiana State University will conduct a Job Fair on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. It will take place at the Hulman Center on campus of the Indiana State University, 200 North Eighth Street, Terre Haute, Indiana from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM for veterans only and then from 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM for the General Public. Hundreds of employers have been invited, and the event is free to the public.
Post Service Officer Award Nominations: Each year, the National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission (VA&R) and The American Legion Department of Indiana acknowledges the contributions of exceptional post service officers with a national Meritorious Service Citation and a department post service officer award certificate. Posts may nominate their post service officers by completing an “American Legion Department of Indiana Post Service Officer Award Nomination” form and returning it to the department’s veterans service office address noted on the form. You may obtain award nomination forms by calling The American Legion, Department of Indiana, Veterans Service Office at 317-916-3605.
Post Service Officers Attend Service Officer Training Seminar: American Legion department service officers conducted a training seminar for post service officers at the Mid-Winter Conference on Saturday, January 14, 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 representatives for attending the seminar: Bill Pease, Post 70; Ross Glick, Post 381; Robert L Harris, Post 42; Jeff Enright, Post 73; Ineligible Signature, Post 73; J. Coomer, Post 73; Jeff Harthman; Post 324 and Spencer County Veterans Service Officer; Bob Rettig, Post 57; Ann Adcook, Post 510; Kevin Hinton, Post 197; Harold Hensley, Post 73; and Chris Brenneman, Post 408.
Service Office Updates
Indianapolis VAMC posted this on VA’s “MyHealthyvet.” Veteran - are you living with a chronic pain? Learn to manage life with chronic pain at our Healthier Living with Chronic Pain Support series. This 6-week program will help you deal with pain and fatigue, manage fear and frustration, set realistic goals, discover ways to make your daily tasks easier... and much more. This is a support program –no medical care is provided during this program.
Registration in VA health care is a prerequisite. The workshop begins on Tuesday, April 18 and meets from 9:00 am to 11:30 am for 6 weeks (ending on May 23rd).
To find out more information or enroll – call the Veteran Health Education Coordinator, at (317) 988-4009.
You may receive more helpful messages like these and additional health information by contacting your nearest VA Medical Center and signing up for a “Myhealthyvet” account. (Laurie Webb RN CDE Veteran Health Education Coordinator)
National Veterans Service Issues:
Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act of 2016: Signed into law on December 16, 2016, the Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act directs the Department of Defense (DOD) to identify veterans who have been separated from service for combat-related injuries and received a severance payment that was improperly taxed by the federal government.
The Act further directs DOD to determine how much the combat-veterans are owed and allow veterans who have been improperly taxed to recover the withheld amounts. The National Veterans Legal Service Program estimates that over 13,800 veterans may have been denied full severance pay as a result of wrongful taxation.
Under the law, veterans who suffer combat-related injuries and who are separated from the military are not supposed to be taxed on the one-time lump sum severance payment they receive from DOD. Unfortunately, taxes on combat-related disability severance payments were withheld from qualifying veterans for a number of years and veterans were not aware of the improper reduction of benefits.
Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Compensation: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is amending its adjudication regulations regarding presumptive service connection, and adding certain diseases associated with contaminants present in the base water supply at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune (Camp Lejeune), North Carolina, from August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987.
This final rule establishes that veterans, former reservists, and former National Guard members, who served at Camp Lejeune for no less than 30 days (consecutive or nonconsecutive) during this period, and who have been diagnosed with any of eight associated diseases, are presumed to have incurred or aggravated the disease in service for purposes of entitlement to VA benefits.
In addition, this final rule establishes a presumption that these individuals were disabled during the relevant period of service for purposes of establishing active military service for benefits purposes.
Under this presumption, affected former reservists and National Guard members have veteran status for purposes of entitlement to some VA benefits. This amendment implements a decision by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that service connection on a presumptive basis is warranted for claimants who served at Camp Lejeune during the relevant period and for the requisite amount of time and later develop certain diseases. The effective date of the final rule was March 14, 2017. The diseases include:
1. Adult Leukemia,
2. Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes,
3. Bladder cancer,
4. Kidney cancer,
5. Liver cancer,
6. Multiple myeloma,
7. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and
8. Parkinson’s disease.
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.
Department Service Officers Often Work “Behind the Scenes” Winning Veterans Benefits: Veterans with American Legion representation do not always know when The American Legion wins additional benefits for them. While reviewing a VA decision, Department Service Officer Steve Hicks found where VA failed to consider that the veteran had file an “Intent to File” notice 11 months before VA received the veteran’s formal compensation claim.
Steve knew VA regulations require assignment of an effective date of benefits from the date VA receives the “Intent to File” notice if benefits are granted as a result of the veteran filing a formal compensation claim within one year of filing the “Intent to File.” Steve immediately contacted the VA rating official who agreed to assign the earlier effective date.
This resulted in the veteran receiving an additional retroactive benefit of $5,893 that he would have likely not known he was entitled. All this was done before VA issue the formal decision, so the veteran had no idea of what had happen. Our department service officers’ good working relationship with VA regional office employees help win additional benefits, sometimes even before VA issues formal decisions.
Service Officer Assist Veteran with Filing Large Claim: Department Service Officer Bryce Hullett doesn’t back off when he finds veterans with large complicated claims. Bryce assisted one veteran with filing a claim having 37 issues (claimed medical conditions) and containing over 700 pages of service medical treatment records.
The complexity of the claim required the use of many e-mails and phone calls with the veteran and several VA employees across approximately 3 to 4 states, and the correcting of errors with the submission and re-submission of medical records. As a result,
VA granted the veteran a monthly compensation benefit of $3,810, and a retroactive benefit in the amount of $41,785. The veteran’s dependents are now also entitled to assistance with their medical expenses after VA established permanency to the veteran’s 100% compensation rating. Without the assistance of a qualified service officer, VA may had taken years to grant this veteran’s benefits and the veteran may not have gotten everything he was entitled.
Service Officer’s Extra Efforts Wins Benefits: Department Service Officer Bryce Hullett, interviewed a veteran at the Service Office on December 6, 2016. The veteran appeared “fidgety and anxious” and basically emotionally upset. Bryce and the veteran discussed the pending claim for service connection of a mental health condition to include a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Bryce also provided the veteran contact information for the VA “Crisis Hotline.” Bryce then contacted the VA Service Center Manger’s office and sought immediate action due to the seriousness of the veteran’s mental state that Bryce expected was near suicidal. VA made a decision 15 days later granting a 70% compensation rating for the veteran’s PTSD.
On December 22nd, Bryce learned that the veteran had lost his job and immediately helped the veteran file a claim for a 100% Individual Unemployability (IU) rating along with appropriate medical evidence. VA first denied the IU claim, but, through Bryce’s personal efforts and professional relationship with VA regional office employees, VA reversed its decision and granted the 100% IU rating on February 1, 2017.
Without the assistance of a qualified and compassionate service officer, this veteran could have become one of the 21 (average) veterans a day committing suicide. Instead, this veteran is now receiving a monthly VA compensation benefit of approximately $3,000, and receives mental health care through VA’s healthcare system.
Representative Saves Veteran One Year of Benefits: A veteran used the American Legion to help file his compensation claim in February 2016. In late January 2017, we learned that VA had never processed the veteran’s claim. The veteran’s VA electronic records file (VBMS) failed to record receipt of his claim.
Department Service Officer Tony Cross immediately researched our office records and found a VA date stamp receipt for VA receiving the claim in February 2016. Tony presented that information to the VA Service Center Manager resulting in VA accepting and processing the claim the same as if it were received “and recorded” by VA one year earlier.
An Extraordinary Claim Receives Extraordinary Representation: VA had denied a veteran’s claim for service connection of a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before the veteran sought assistance from American Legion Department Service Officer Bryce Hullett.
Bryce knew VA would not reopen a previously denied claim without new and material evidence. During an extensive interview, Bryce discussed the new and material evidence requirement with the veteran, and helped put together a new claim meeting that requirement. In addition, Bryce helped the veteran apply for service connection of migraine headaches and a skin condition.
Bryce immediately took the claim to the VA Regional Office “Personal Trauma/Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator,” and requested immediate action due to the sensitivity of the claim. VA then scheduled a compensation examination where Bryce also provided assistance and advice to the veteran. VA granted the claim on March 16, 2017 less than two months after it was filed. VA had already assigned a 40% compensation rating for another condition, but the grant of service connection of the PTSD, migraine headaches, and a skin condition increased the veteran’s combined disability rating to 90%.
This increased the claimant’s monthly benefits by $1,373. Since VA had received the veteran’s “intent to file” notice on March 18, 2016 and within one year of the date of receipt of the formal claim, VA granted benefits retroactive from date of the “intent to file” notice resulting in a retroactive benefits of $15,090. In addition, the higher compensation rating allows the veteran to receive VA health care and prescription drug services without charge. The services of a dedicated, knowledgeable, and caring American Legion service officer made this possible.
Thoroughly Written Notices of Disagreement Can Win Benefits: Veterans should not file a notice of disagreement with a VA decision without help from a well-qualified service officer. Notices of Disagreement (NOD) should explain in as much detail as possible why the veteran believes VA made an error in the decision denying benefit, but also do so as succinctly as possible.
The NOD should also focus on how VA law regulations when compared with the evidence of record or other available evidence would allow VA to grant the appeal.
Department Service Officer John Hickey new this when assisting a veteran with preparing his Notice of Disagreement. He explained to VA how the veteran’s last compensation examination was inadequate for rating the severity of the veteran’s post-traumatic stress disorder.
This resulted in VA obtaining other medical evidence, and increasing the veteran’s compensation rating in April 2017 from 10% to 30% retroactively from February 22, 2016. The veteran’s monthly benefit increased by $275 and he received a retroactive benefit of $3,575. (V: 55972)
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.