New laws passed for veterans that served in the Gulf War. These veterans have five years to file from the date of discharge. According to Orange County Veterans Service Officer Gene Smith, President Obama just extended that deadline, so all Gulf War veterans should file now.

Smith said Gulf War Syndrome is linked to veterans that served in the Persian Gulf. They may have an illness which a doctor hasn’t been able to pinpoint the cause. “The veterans’ office has a list of illnesses recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as part of the Gulf War Syndrome ruling,” said Smith

“Gulf War veterans are encouraged to utilize the office, if only to file for medical benefits.” He said all veterans should certify their discharges (DD214) at the county clerk’s office.

Veterans receiving 70-100 percent service connected disabilities can receive discounts on taxes and car tags. Those at 100 percent disability receive tax relief and as of last year, widows of those vets also receive tax relief. Spouses can also receive medical insurance and qualify for Department of Veterans’ Affairs discounts. Smith encourages all retired veterans to file for benefits.

The office, located on Farm Road 1442, about one mile south of Interstate 10, is supported by the county and services are offered to veterans for free. Smith said he still gets veterans coming in that said they didn’t know the office was there.

There are two benefits coordinators, Michael Powell and Angela Johnson. Charlotte Burrell, the administrative assistant is also certified in Veterans disability claims and can answer questions over the phone.  Smith also assists with filing widow or veterans’ disability benefits or pensions. The coordinators are trained each year with all the new laws to assist vets in filling out the paperwork required to file a claim.

Veterans that served during war time periods and are nearly destitute may qualify for pension benefits where they would not qualify for Social Security benefits. Smith said disability benefits can increase income and are non-taxable. Widows of veterans should contact the office to discuss possible benefits.  Veterans should file a claim if only to protect their spouses and burial benefits that may be available, but only if the veteran files a claim. Medical benefits may be available for veterans, but must be applied for. The veteran service office assists with filing the three-page application.

There is also a VA counselor for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that comes to the office once a week for counseling sessions.

Smith says there is no waiting three months for an appointment. Vets are seen either the week they call or the following week. Home visits are available for veterans or widows that are not able to get to the office due to disabilities or age.

The VSO offers extended hours to assist veterans that work and cannot get off early. The office is open 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. If appointments need to be made earlier or later, they must be approved by Smith. To make an appointment, call 409-745-1535.

During the week of Sept. 17-21, the office will be operating with a limited staff of one part-time coordinator and the office clerk. Powell, Johnson and Smith will be out of the office for mandatory training.

Pictured: Gene Smith, Orange County service officer.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.