Meet Our Community Leaders
WORKING TO IMPROVE VETERANS’ ACCESS TO ESSENTIAL BENEFITS AND SERVICES
–By Sey In
Suffolk County, Long Island is home to one of the largest Veterans’ population in the United States. Nassau County is also not far behind. There are more than 770,000 Veterans in New York State as a whole. With so many Veterans living in the area, greater assistance is needed to ensure that Veterans have access to benefits and services to which they are entitled. Veterans often face a wide array of health problems, including cancers linked to exposure to harmful chemicals, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) stemming from experiences of combat, and traumatic brain injuries (“TBI”). In New York, it is estimated that about 8,000 Veterans suffer from PTSD and 7,000 from TBI. These high numbers underscore the importance for Veterans to obtain access to affordable and quality healthcare.
That is where Benjamin Pomerance and Michele Oster come in. They both work for New York State’s Division of Veteran Affairs (the “Division”). Benjamin is the Deputy Director for Program Development and Michele is a Benefits Advisor for the Long Island region. Both are very passionate about helping connect Veterans, Service members, and their family members to the benefits, programs and services they earned. “We’re red-tape cutters,” says Pomerance. “We’re ready to help, and we’re 100% free of charge.”
One way the Division aims to improve access to Veterans’ benefits is through outreach programs. Pomerance and Oster both agree that “the knowledge piece is one of the most important aspects of [our work].” The Division hosts a number of outreach programs in the Long Island community to inform Veterans and their families about benefits that are available to them – ranging from property tax exemptions to education benefits to civil service preferences to federal disability compensation and pension payments – and to connect Veterans and their families with a Benefits Advisor to help them navigate through the paperwork that must be completed to utilize such options.
One problem the Division sees all too often is Veterans, and Veterans’ family members, not applying for benefits because they do not believe that they are eligible for them. “There’s a myth out there that a Veteran loses eligibility for benefits if he or she does not apply within ten years after leaving the military,” says Pomerance. “We want everyone to know that myth is absolutely false.” Survivors of deceased Veterans may also be eligible for benefits.
The Division is also available to assist Veterans if their application for benefits is denied. “A Veteran has the option of appealing the denial, but the appeals process may take three to five years,” explains Oster. The Division is staffed with experts who are available to help Veterans step by step. Utilizing the Division’s experts can also improve the Veteran’s chance of succeeding on an appeal.
Both Pomerance and Oster value the work that they do. “Every day, you have a chance to positively influence someone’s life,” says Pomerance. “Being able to let a Veteran tell their story is so important,” adds Oster.
There is one key message that Pomerance and Oster would like to convey:
“CONNECT WITH US!!!”
You can connect with the Division of Veteran Affairs in a number of ways, including: