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Kandiyohi County Veterans Service office has new officer

WILLMAR -- Josephine Denning was beside herself.

The elderly Atwater woman had just received correspondence from the Department of Veterans Affairs asking her to complete some complicated documents and she knew she needed help.

Denning, who is a widow of a World War II veteran, was at the Kandiyohi County Veteran Service Office on Wednesday morning to get that help from the county Veterans Officer Trisha Appeldorn.

"I'm glad she's here," Denning said of Appeldorn.

Denning is a typical county resident who comes to the office every day seeking assistance.

Oftentimes widows of war veterans don't know what benefits they may be eligible to receive, said Appeldorn.

Oftentimes veterans themselves aren't aware they could receive compensation and health care benefits for injuries that occurred years ago when they were soldiers.

That's why Appeldorn has been encouraging veterans and their families to visit the office and consider applying for benefits.

They've been listening.

Since Appeldorn was hired four months ago, she has filed 220 disability claims for veterans in the county. The total for 2005 was 274.

In November she began running radio advertisements inviting veterans to stop at the office to inquire about benefits. She's also been spending time with community veteran groups to get the word out.

"The phone has been ringing off the hook," she said.

Appeldorn's efforts to reach out to veterans will be extended through submitted articles that will begin running soon in the West Central Tribune.

Appeldorn is also visiting with county nursing homes to make sure residents who are veterans -- and spouses or widows of veterans -- are receiving all the benefits they are entitled to get.

Some low-income nursing home residents that currently have fees paid for by Kandiyohi County may be eligible to receive federal Veterans Affairs funds to cover the nursing home costs. That would free-up county money for other uses, said Appeldorn.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are common ailments of older veterans who may be eligible to have costs, like hearing aids, covered by the Veterans Administration, said Appeldorn. There are also benefits for prescription drugs that they may not be taking advantage of.

Appeldorn says she honors all the veterans' requests to file an application for benefits. It takes about four months to get a response. She files appeals if the requests are denied.

About 80 percent of the people she currently sees are older veterans, from WWII, the Koran War and Vietnam War. But she's also seen half-dozen veterans in her office who have served in Iraq who have various injuries. One 20-year old soldier she'd filed a claim for has already received a Purple Heart, as well as the $1,500 benefit that comes with it.

The numbers of veterans from Iraq are expected to increase in March and April when 3,000 Minnesota National Guard troops return home.

The sooner those individuals file claims, the easier it will be for them to receive benefits in the future, she said.

The county veterans services office should be "one of the first stops they make," said Appeldorn, who'll be part of a team of county veteran officers stationed at Fort McCoy, Wisc. when those troops start coming home.

During a report to the Kandiyohi County Commissioners on Tuesday, Appeldorn she said doesn't know how many of those 3,000 soldiers are from Kandiyohi County.

There are currently 3,355 veterans in Kandiyohi County who received a total of $5.2 million in benefits in 2006.

In Minnesota, military personnel who served in combat zones or qualified hazardous duty areas since Sept. 11, 2001 will receive an extra $59 for every month they served. The money will be helpful to returning military who are struggling to get back on their feet with jobs or college.

Efforts are also being made to offer free tuition to Minnesota colleges to vets, said Appeldorn.

Appeldorn said her office received a $4,200 grant from the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs to purchase new computer equipment that is helping to streamline data at the office. She has also applied for a grant to host a veteran's information workshop that she'd like to hold sometime in 2007.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750