Watauga County's director of Veteran's Services Jim Harmon works from his office in the Watauga County Courthouse Annex in Boone.
Photo by Scott Nicholson/Watauga Democrat Jim Harmon
has been head of the county,s Office of Veteran,s Affairs for nearly 20 years, with a background in vocational rehabilitation.He is also a veteran himself, having served in the Navy, including an 11-month stint in Vietnam.
The office was created state law, requiring each county to host one, though the state pays some of the cost and provides training.Harmon
biggest job is helping veterans and their dependents navigate the bureaucracy of the federal government and help them get the benefits for which they are eligible.
However, all female veterans have access to full care, which Harmon
attributed to the addition of more services for female health.
Health care for veterans has taken the form of policy instead of law, which leads to some confusion and controversy over benefits. ,A group of veterans filed a lawsuit to sue the V.A. to provide mandatory health care,, Harmon said. ,It,s never been put into law, it,s been given, and they,ve been told.In general, V.A. benefits have increased.,The Department of Defense
also offers some benefits, creating some confusion over funding and program cuts.Harmon
said the political debate often is reduced to ,sound bites, that further cloud the issue, though he
said the funding comes from the ,same piece of pie., If the Veterans Affairs budget is cut, benefits are usually increased in a corresponding amount through the Department of Defense
said one change that has increased defense budget costs is that some veterans are now eligible for concurrent benefits through both programs.Harmon
said health care is the biggest concern for most veterans, particularly with the aging of World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War vets.Harmon
enrolled himself in the V.A. hospital
at Mountain Home
and said he
was so impressed that now he
gets all his
care there. ,A lot of veterans who have been to V.A. hospital
say it,s the best care they,ve ever received,, he
said. ,The care is personal and friendly, so hopefully it,s ubiquitous through the system.,Harmon
said about a third of the soldiers serving in the Gulf War filed some sort of disability claim, and he
expects that percentage to be about the same for those returning from the Iraq war.National Guard soldiers who serve on active duty get the same benefits as those in other branches of the military.Harmon
said there,s a new educational benefit for veterans that he
expects will be widely used.
Veterans Affairs conducts screenings before soldiers leave active duty to anticipate any service-connected claims.Veterans who aren,t disabled would have to be below income requirements, currently $31,900 combined for a veteran and spouse.Harmon is a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans, though he said he encourages those organizations to send veterans to his office when they have claims.Harmon also serves as a liaison for any Social Security or state benefits for which a veteran is eligible.
,The biggest concern for veterans is access to health care,, Harmon said. ,Veterans Affairs is operating the largest socialized medical program in the world.It has its foibles and its pluses.If anybody wants to see what socialized medicine looks like, they can go to a V.A. hospital
and see it in action.,Harmon
said computers have helped with the filing of claims, but that has yet to eliminate delays in response.A veteran may wait between 12 and 18 months to hear back on a claim. ,It,s very frustrating for the vet to sit and wait that long to hear from the V.A.
Possible changes to benefits are also a worry for veterans. ,It,s a function of news shows,, Harmon
said.It keeps vets stirred up.The federal budget is a complicated program and it,s so political.That,s where this office plays an important role, keeping up with changes and new things on the horizon.,Harmon
said veterans are generally more positive, and the visibility of the Iraq war has brought more attention to veterans. ,On the whole, they feel the V.A.
is improved, so they generally feel appreciated,, Harmon said. ,With the war going on, there,s a more positive attitude about veterans, and the veterans see that.,