To the editor: Choosing a veteran service officer (VSO) is a lot like choosing a doctor. We want someone who will be there when we need them, who has the training and qualifications to perform the services we need, and we hope they will be there from beginning to end.

When the time comes that you decide to file a claim for either a service-connected disability or a non-service connected pension, there are some questions you should ask to ensure you have a VSO who will fully serve your needs:

Is the VSO accredited? Is the office conveniently located? Is there ample parking? What are their hours? Are they in the office every day or are their hours sporadic? Is there any cost involved? What benefits are available to veterans? Can you file a real estate tax exemption on my behalf? If my claim goes into the appeals process, can you represent me at the hearing?

Pennsylvania requires each county to maintain a VSO. All county VSOs are mandated to receive accreditation through annual training provided by the Deputy Adjutant General, Veterans Affairs Office at Fort Indiantown Gap. Accreditation consists of one week of training in the fall of each year with federal testing every fifth year in order to maintain their accreditation. County VSOs are members of the Pennsylvania State Association of County Directors of Veterans Affairs, which provides an additional one week of training each June.

In addition, county VSOs have a permanent office usually located in the county seat, offering regular business hours, Monday through Friday. We are here to assist veterans with the following federal programs: the filing of service connected disability claims and non-service connected pension claims, enrollment in the VA health care system, burial and survivor benefits, VA home loans, education benefits/GI Bill benefits, obtaining a DD-214 or military discharge, personnel and service treatment records, discharge upgrades, DD-214 corrections, replacement of service medals, veteran license plates, vocational rehab and small businesses for veterans. State programs including paralyzed and blind pensions, real estate tax exemptions and emergency assistance. County programs include burial benefits for veterans and their widows.

Filing for VA benefits is a serious and important decision for your life. Make sure the person that represents you is qualified and capable to meet your unique needs.

For an accredited veterans service officer, contact the following:

In Northumberland County - Belinda Albright at 988-4213 or Pat Gorman at 988-4214.

In Columbia County - Jim Merk at 387-6501.

In Montour County - Doug Resseguie at 271-3061.

In Schuylkill County - Brenda Zechman at 628-1400.

Belinda Albright

Director

Department of Veteran Affairs

Northumberland County