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AARP North Carolina Works to Help Vets Navigate VA Benefits

U.S. Army veteran Greg Love, of Charlotte, tried for years to get access to the disability benefits he is owed after serving as a military police officer from 1987 to 1994.

But he found the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs system slow and hard to navigate. His first application was denied.

Then earlier this year, Love, 54, met with a VA claims representative at an event called Veterans Benefits Live, offered by the department along with AARP North Carolina.

He got help reapplying for benefits and is optimistic about his chances now.

“It opened the door,” says Love, who incurred a spinal injury from being hit by a vehicle while working on an Army base in Georgia. “I finally got to apply for the benefits my family and I deserve and need. I’m just waiting and hoping that this time will be different.”

AARP’s efforts include not only helping to sort through VA benefits for health and disability, but giving support for other programs that aid military families, with a focus on thwarting fraud targeted at veterans.

For those who can’t attend live events, AARP provides an online tool, the AARP Veterans and Military Families Health Benefits Navigator, to help with enrolling in the VA system. Find the tool at aarp.org/vetshealthnavigator.

‘Veteran-Friendly’ State

Last year, the AARP North Carolina Veterans, Military and Their Families (VMF) Advisory Council’s efforts contributed to Gov. Roy Cooper (D) proclaiming the state “Veteran Friendly.”

Now the council is challenging the state to live up to that proclamation by, among other things, making sure military cemeteries are maintained, checking on the quality of North Carolina’s five nursing homes for veterans, and pushing the state to create job, educational and housing opportunities for them.

About 46 percent of North Carolina veterans are 65 and older, and another 35 percent are between 45 and 64, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We want to recognize their service to our country and the sacrifices they’ve made,” says retired Army Col. Shirley Gerrior, 72, of Wilmington, who chairs the VMF council and is the lead volunteer for AARP North Carolina’s veterans issues.

AARP also wants to help vets avoid fraud, since they are often the targets of con artists.

AARP North Carolina holds in-person and virtual events on how to spot, prevent and report scams. To reach veterans in rural areas, AARP volunteers conducted a telephone campaign this year to share information about fraud with them.

Veterans, active-duty service members and their families are nearly 40 percent more likely to lose money to scams and fraud than the civilian population, according to a 2021 AARP report. Many of the scams are directly related to their military service or their benefits, the report found.

AARP is involved with events that honor veterans and recognize their service, hosting coffee gatherings for them and sending cards to those in nursing homes.

In April, AARP North Carolina helped sponsor an “Honor Flight” for Cape Fear area veterans to visit America’s war memorials in Washington, D.C.

Interested in supporting vets? Email NCAARP@aarp.org. For more, visit aarp.org/veterans and aarp.org/nc.

Michelle Crouch is a writer living in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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