The Motion Picture & Television Fund’s VA Benefits Assistance program has helped Hollywood’s military veterans collect more than $1 million in unclaimed Veterans Affairs benefits since it started tracking outcomes in 2014. To date, 115 veterans have gotten the benefits to which they’re entitled, and 82 more claims are currently being processed.
When veterans decides to file a claim, program director Naomi Rodda, a licensed clinical social worker and federally accredited VA claims agent, helps them navigate the paperwork process and troubleshoots their claims through the complex and bureaucratic web of the Veterans Benefits Administration. The pension benefits MPTF helps its veterans secure can open doors to other VA programs, including free health care, free education benefits for dependents, and additional caregiver stipends for those who care for severely disabled veterans. The program also helps physically frail and cognitively impaired veterans and surviving spouses gain access pension to benefits that provide them with additional monies to use toward caregiving or assisted living facility expenses.
Staff of MPTF’s VA Benefits Assistance program monitor federal policy and legislative changes regarding veterans’ benefits, such as last year’s Blue Water Navy decision to expand qualifications for conditions related to exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. For example, MPTF secured pension benefits for a Vietnam-era Navy veteran prior to this decision and contacted him to advise him of these recent changes. As a result, he received 15 years of retroactive monies totaling more than $35,000 tied to a claim for diabetes previously denied in 2005.
“With knowledge comes experience and vice versa,” Rodda said. “I learn something new practically every day doing this work. I am incredibly fortunate to have colleagues and mentors within the VA system who are my sounding boards when I have questions. I know the VA as a system has a notoriously ‘bad rap,’ but the people I have met there are compassionate, kind, thoughtful, and 100% dedicated to helping veterans in any way they can. Yes, this work is pain-staking, laborious, frustrating and maddening at times. The bureaucracy and barriers are real. But our nation’s veterans served this country with a sense of honor, courage, and duty that those of us who have not served cannot truly understand. The least I can do is help them advocate for what is rightfully theirs.”