About 30 IAM members from around the U.S. were selected to attend training in April at the IAM’s Winpisinger Center to prepare to assist IAM military veterans in obtaining earned benefits from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration (VA). Some were veterans themselves, and others are volunteers who want to stand up as allies for veterans in the fight.

The National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, Inc. (NOVA), a not-for-profit educational membership organization, provided the training. NOVA is a national organization of attorneys and other qualified members who act as advocates for disabled veterans. 

(Caption: The principle of “pay it forward’ still resonates with the Veterans Services Program staff and leaders.  IAM Director of Retirees and Membership Assistance, James Little, left, and IAM Veterans Services Coordinator Rich Evans, right, present NOVA Executive Director Diane Boyd Rauber, center, with a contribution for Veterans scholarship.)

“I think it’s a great partnership because it’s so important that we have qualified people that are willing to get accredited and help veterans file claims for free, and not be taken in by any unaccredited claims folks,” said NOVA Executive Director Diane Boyd Rauber.

Rauber is referring to the sub-industry of VA claims “sharks” that are not accredited by the VA, but offer claims services in exchange for a payout once the VA begins paying the claim. These people and organizations often find veterans in need of help with a VA claim, but lack the accreditations needed to actually represent that veteran in front of the VA for hearings or appeals.

“If they are asking for your password information for VA.gov or myhealthyvet.gov – they’re probably not accredited with the VA,” said Rich Evans, the lead veterans service representative for the IAM. “Only folks with VA accreditations can access VBMS, the online system where a veteran’s claim is actually being processed. If they can’t see that, they are shooting blind, and may not even be on the right battlefield.” 

The passage of the PACT Act, signed by President Biden in August 2022, authorized an additional $800 billion to VA annual budgets over the next decade for the VA to begin to treat and pay claims for veterans exposed to toxic and hazardous chemicals during service, like the burn pits well known from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The law was designed to help the VA provide better services to those veterans made ill by toxic exposures and other known hazardous environments by the growing generation of veterans from the Global War on Terrorism, Gulf War, Kosovo, and certain military service back to Vietnam.

The IAM started its Veterans Service program in 2021, and in 2022 the IAM applied to the VA to become an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO), much like Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and other not-for-profit veterans service organizations, the first labor union in U.S. history to do so. Services are offered for free to IAM veterans and their family members.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said IAM International President Brian Bryant. “We have the largest base of U.S. military veterans in the labor movement in our membership, and it makes sense to provide these services free of charge to those veterans we already represent.”

“The main thing we hope these [volunteers] take back to their locals is just a general understanding of some of the benefits that the VA offers and how to advise their members locally to reach out to us and the things they can expect throughout the process,” said IAM Veterans Services program founder Brian Stymacks who has been working since 2019 to bring these services to IAM veterans.

Why NOVA training is important

The program has generated over $1.5 million in successful claims for IAM veterans with the VA since Rich Evans was appointed to work on their behalf full-time. His services are free to IAM veterans and their families.

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