The American Legion has developed and launched a smartphone app to help veterans apply to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability compensation.
The "Claims Coach" app provides an applicant access to a certified Legion service officer, a resource guide, tips on working through each stage of the application, and a handy way to keep track of submitted documents.
"I think it's exactly the right thing at the right time, because everything is going into that newer, quicker, portable" means of communicating, said K. Robert Lewis, a Legion state service officer in Connecticut.
The Legion has been tweaking the system since its "soft-launch" in August, and anticipates a formal roll-out of the app by Veterans Day.
"It's a tool and a resource guide," said Lewis, who served in the Air Force in air-to-air and air-to-ground missile operations during the 1970s. "To me, its' something that is indispensible in helping veterans file their claims, putting them in touch with people who are absolutely and totally advocating on their behalf and walk them through what needs to be done."
The Legion had not set out to create "Claims Coach" when it began looking at getting more into the online world. Initially, the idea was to publish its magazine online.
"But through focus groups we found that veterans … the younger, transitioning veterans, who didn't know much about the Legion, wanted to know what the Legion was doing for them," said Holly Soria, art director for the Legion's magazine division. "We decided that this was the course we wanted to take."
The Legion has a long history of assisting veterans with their VA claims. Vets wading into the bureaucracy on their own are more likely to have applications kicked back to them for being incomplete, Lewis said. A Legion service officer, who is trained in the system, can help ensure all paperwork is assembled and filed correctly the first time, he said.
"There are so many different forms … to have one place you can go in and ‘triage' all of that … is pretty extraordinary," said Val Nicholas, a Legion service officer. That's what the app represents, he explained.
And it's not just an advantage for the younger vets. Vietnam veterans who may now be dealing with illnesses like those related to exposure to Agent Orange, can also use it.
"The problem with most of these veterans is they're reluctant to seem like they're asking for any kind of handout," said Nicholas, who served from 1974 to 1976 with the 11th Armored Cav at the Fulda Gap separating East and West Germany. "That's the hardest part about getting veterans what they deserve and what they have earned.
"This [app] makes it easier on them" to learn what they need to do, he said.