Bill helps vets get benefits

MANSFIELD -- After waiting five-and-a-half years to receive his veteran benefits compensation, Vietnam War-era veteran Charles Hooker said enough is enough.

Hooker, of Hamilton, contacted Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to cut through the red tape and ensure other veterans would not face similar struggles. As of March, 25,226 Ohio veterans are awaiting compensation. Some have been waiting 10 years.

Hooker, 55, joined the Navy at 17 and assisted in the evacuation of Vietnam. While on duty he sustained injuries to both shoulders, later requiring surgery, and was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a conference call Wednesday, Brown announced a new bill, the Veterans Service Outreach Act, designed to help prevent backlog and get compensation to veterans faster. The bill will require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to notify veterans about organizations that can assist them in filing their claims.

Larry Moore, director and service officer of the Richland County Veterans Service Commission, said Hooker's plight is becoming more common as VA offices across the nation struggle to keep up with the influx of claims from the two wars in the Middle East.

Brown said the VA processed 1 million claims last year, but received 1.3 million new claims as troops withdrew from Afghanistan.

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