A Texas Tribune report this week has turned a spotlight on one Austin-based operator who charges veterans thousands of dollars for help with their VA paperwork.
Cooke County Veterans Services Officer Tim Cortes helps veterans and their families with issues stemming from military service, including connecting veterans with the benefits they are due from the Department of Veterans Affairs, at no cost.
“With reference to the Texas Tribune article on how unaccredited coaches profit off disabled veteran claims: I must as a point of reference agree that these so-called veteran advocates are profiting with huge margins in individual charges and also take a percentage valued between 20 and 40 percent of any approved VA claim they assist a veteran with. That can certainly amount to tens of thousands of dollars and cripple the veteran’s financial stature in whole,” Cortes told the Register this week.
“Unfortunately, although agreeably dangerous, veterans who sign legal contracts with these “for profit” non-VA organizations are bound by the obligation agreed to. These are again “for profit” businesses where as there is a listing of Texas nonprofit organization to include every Texas County Veteran Services Office, the Texas Veterans commission, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans association, the American Legion and numerous other state and federal organizations which will assist veterans from cradle to grave with all veteran benefits, assistance and needs at no cost. “Veterans should not be paying for any veteran services ever.
The Register asked Cortes to answer some frequent questions he gets on the job:
Q: Do veterans need to pay for assistance to get Veterans administration (VA) benefits?
A: No. The state of Texas requires that all counties provide veterans with veteran services free of charge. For assistance from a VA/State accredited representative contact the Cooke County Texas Veteran Services Officer Tim Cortes at 940-668-5436.
Q: Can I submit a claim to the veteran’s administration for benefits without assistance.
A: Yes. Any veteran can submit a claim to the veteran’s administration. All forms, requests and instructions can be located at www.va.gov.
Q: The VA told me that I make too much money to receive VA medical benefits-Is that true?
A: There are two ways to receive VA medical benefits. While it is true that the VA does provide VA medical benefits to low-income veterans at no cost, veterans with any service-connected disability are eligible for medical benefits regardless of income upon request.
Q: How many years after discharge from military service do I have to file a VA claim for a service injury?
A: There is no time limit to file for a service-connected disability; whether one year, five years or 30 years you are still eligible to file a claim with the veteran’s administration.
Q: What is considered a service-connected injury?
A: Any injury incurred while on active service in the military is considered a service-connected injury-it’s as simple as that. If you were injured in combat, training or were involved in a vehicle accident after work hours or fell off a ladder and required continued care after the service, the injuries incurred are considered service connected.
Q: What is VA compensation?
A: VA compensation is a financial award based on the percentage of disability a veteran is considered. The monthly award or compensation can be between 10 percent and 100 percent for injuries such as hearing loss, tinnitus, improperly healed military injuries, conditions associated with agent orange exposure in Vietnam, post traumatic stress disorder or other associated mental health disabilities or injuries incurred while on active service etc.
Q: Does the VA assist low-income veterans financially?
A: The VA offers veteran pensions to wartime veterans. Wartime veterans are considered veterans who served at least one day during a period that the U.S. was considered at war.
Q: If I, a disabled veteran receiving compensation dies, will my wife or children continue to receive my VA compensation, retirement, or pension?
A: No. When you the disabled veteran dies, all benefits die with you and your family is not eligible to continue receiving them. However, if you die and you had a disability that you were receiving compensation for that was a contributing factor of your death such as diabetes, coronary artery disease or a wide range of diseases etc., your spouse will be eligible for a surviving spouse pension i.e., Dependent Indemnity Compensation (DIC), No-cost-free medical insurance, and with educational benefits upon request.
Q: Are there any VA burial benefits for veterans?
A: Yes. Veterans and their spouse can be buried at any national veteran’s cemetery. There is no plot fee, military honors will be rendered, and a headstone or footstone is furnished without cost. Additionally, if a veteran’s spouse passes away first, the spouse can be buried at the national cemetery first and the veteran can follow. If a veteran chooses not to be buried at a national cemetery, a headstone/footstone is still furnished at no cost, and military honors are rendered upon the surviving family member’s request.
Q: Are there educational benefits for veterans?
A: Yes. In addition to the Post 9/11 GI bill; Veterans who enter the military in Texas and reside in Texas after discharge are eligible for Hazelwood act education benefits which offers 153 free college credits at Texas state college or institution (this includes TA&M-Go Aggies!)..
Cortes takes walk-ins at his office in the old Cooke County Jail at 301 S. Chestnut St. in downtown Gainesville. He can also be reached by phone at 940-668-5436 or via email at [email protected].
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