Veterans Day is a day we celebrate those who have served in the Armed Forces. However, separation from military service can be an exciting and confusing time as veterans readjust to civilian life. At South Carolina Legal Services, we work to meet the civil legal needs of those who have served our country. In addition to receiving direct referrals from SC Serves, many of our offices regularly participate in Stand Down events for veterans across the state to provide information about the services we provide.
We provide representation to income eligible veterans in every area of law where we usually represent clients. We also have numerous attorneys throughout the state who are certified to represent veterans in Veteran’s Administration (VA) benefits cases, although most of our referrals are not directly related to military service or VA benefits such as pensions or VA disability. We most often receive referrals to represent veterans in family law (mostly custody and visitation cases). We also receive referrals for representation in eviction cases, used car cases, and consumer law cases.
In pension and VA disability cases, there are some things a veteran can do at separation to help prevent delays in the future. Primarily, it is a good practice to obtain and keep his or her DD214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty). Also, veterans should obtain their OMPF (Official Military Personnel File) upon separation. It can take a while to locate these records once the veteran has left active duty service, which can cause delays in applying for benefits.
Veterans or their next of kin (defined as the un-remarried widow or widower, child, parent, or sibling of the deceased veteran) can request copies of the veteran’s military records through the National Archives’ National Personnel Record Center (NPRC). The NPRC normally responds to requests in ten working days or less. However, some requests may take much longer. Records are usually free for veterans, next-of-kin and authorized representatives.
In some circumstances, a service-related health problem may come to light shortly after discharge. If a veteran is having health problems after separation, he or she should go to a veteran clinic soon after separation. It is generally easier to argue that health problems have a service connection if the veteran has medical records showing that the issues existed within a year of separation. Seeking medical care shortly after discharge is important especially if the injury is not listed in the OMPF.
It is also important to be mindful of appeal deadlines and seek legal representation (if it is desired) as soon as a denial of any benefits is received to avoid missing important deadlines and to allow the representative time to fully evaluate the case.