The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

September/October 2002    


Veterans Benefits Department Profile


"We get 20 to 30 phones calls a day from veterans who want information and help with VA benefit claims," said Leonard Selfon, VVA's national director of Veterans Benefits. "My personal record is handling 69 different calls in one day."

Selfon and his staff at the national office spend their time working for veterans in this vital area. The staff consists of Monte Wilson, VVA's National Service Representative; Jennifer Chaney, the department's Paralegal; Nathaniel Slayton, the national office's Local Veterans Service Representative; and Caroline Bassilly, the national office's Appellate Service Representative.

All the staff members work on a wide variety of activities to help veterans and their families who have filed or wish to file claims for VA benefits - benefits to which their service entitles them. All of these services are done without charge to the veteran.

Selfon, a University of Baltimore School of Law graduate who has specialized in veterans benefits, and his staff work with more than three hundred VVA -accredited service representatives who, in turn, work with veterans and their families all across the nation. Many service representatives are VVA members who work closely with VVA chapters and state councils. The majority of VVA's service reps also are employees of state and county departments of veterans affairs.

VVA's Veterans Benefits Department is a national leader in the all-important task of training service representatives. The department runs at least one week-long service representative training session annually. "We have done as many as three in one year," Selfon said. Between 30 and 40 people take part in each training session, after which they take a VVA examination. Those who pass the exam are nominated by VVA for accreditation to represent veterans before the VA.

The department and the service reps work with five basic types of claims: basic service connection, presumptive service connection, claims for increased ratings, claims involving dependents, and non-service-connected benefits. Every member of the Veterans Benefits Department staff is trained to handle every type of claim. "In fact," Selfon said, "for the first time in VVA history, all the employees of the National Veterans Benefits staff are accredited service representatives."

Monte Wilson, a disabled Vietnam veteran who served with the 101st Airborne's 1st of the 83rd Artillery in the A Shau Valley in 1968-69, spends the bulk of his time as VVA's National Service Rep helping veterans with VA claims at all levels, including before the VA's Board of Veterans Appeals. He writes briefs and legal arguments before the board and also helps Selfon in assisting VVA's service reps outside Washington. "We try to be a prime resource for our service reps," Selfon said. "We provide them with, among other things, records, advice and legal strategy."

Jennifer Chaney, the department's Paralegal, handles service work, providing basic claims advice to many of the veterans and their families who contact the office every day. She also helps with administrative and judicial appeals. Nathaniel "Nat" Slayton, a Vietnam-era veteran who served with the Coast Guard from 1970-77, is the first-ever National Office Veterans Service Rep. As such, Slayton, who assumed the newly created position March 1, serves an a accredited service rep for veterans in the Washington, D.C., area. "There's a tremendous demand for a local service representative," Selfon said, "and there hadn't been one here at VVA National for a long time until Nat came on board."

Caroline Bassilly, the national office's Appellate Service Representative, works at VVA's office in Silver Spring, Maryland, and at the VA's Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington, D.C.  She works on legal briefs and represents veterans at personal hearings before the BVA. A volunteer attorney also works full time at the VVA's office at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington.

VVA's Veterans Benefits Department has had a strong record of success representing VVA members and other veterans before the VA. "For one of the smaller VSOs, VVA has a reputation in the field for being thorough in preparing claims and effective in our presentations and arguments,'' Selfon said. "When I was working as an attorney for the VA, I was very well aware of that reputation. That, in fact, was a major factor in my decision to come to work for VVA three years ago."


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