National Service Officers (NSOs): A Veteran's Lifelong Partner
“Our national service officers try to be partners for life in helping veterans with disabilities to secure everything they need to live a full and productive life,” said James Fischl, associate director of field services operations at Paralyzed Veterans of America. “When our disabled veterans ask us what they can do, our primary response is, ‘What would you like to do?’ Then we design and build a program to build a better future for them.”
Most service officers are present at one of Paralyzed Veterans’ 72 national service offices nationwide and work with disabled veterans to submit claim information and review the status of claims with the VA, mainly through electronic portals like the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS).
Working on these often complex claims requires service officers to have a breadth of knowledge about VA eligibility and benefits – from compensation to specially adapted housing, Fischl said. “NSOs also have to have medical knowledge to know the limitations of someone with a disability and to know whether it would be prudent to file a claim for a disability rating increase,” he added.
Service officers also work at many of the hospitals and spinal cord injury (SCI) centers within the Veterans Administration’s health care system. In addition to educating veterans at the bedside on the VA claims process, these officers also work hand-in-hand with Paralyzed Veterans’ medical services staff to ensure spinal cord injury patients receive quality care.
“We ensure that veterans in the SCI wards are getting what they need, are receiving quality care and that there is an adequate number of nurses on staff,” Fischl said. “We don’t just go by what the VA reports. Our NSOs verify that what they are reporting is actually accurate. We don’t just work with numbers; we work with results.”
Doug Woodard, a Navy veteran and national service officer in Huntington, W.V., worked for the VA for two years developing claims for service-connected compensation. It was much more gratifying to get away from a cubicle and instead interact face-to-face with veterans as a service officer, he said.
Woodard’s responsibilities include visits to three VA medical centers to help educate Paralyzed Veterans members and non-members on the VA benefits they may be entitled to. Woodard also is involved in community outreach at nursing homes, job fairs and even Marshall University to educate others on Paralyzed Veterans of America’s mission and programs.
“It’s so gratifying to be able to tell one of my clients that Paralyzed Veterans of America is able to get something that’s going to improve the quality of his or her life,” Woodard said.
While service officers work primarily with members of Paralyzed Veterans of America or veterans who are member-eligible, their ultimate goal is to not turn veteran away who needs assistance, Fischl said.
“Our NSOs specialize in some of the most difficult claims for severely disabled veterans,” he said. “Our expertise shines forth in those circumstances, so if we can handle the more difficult cases, then the easier ones are even easier.”
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.