Veterans hope VA Secretary's visit offers chance to make things - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Veterans hope VA Secretary's visit offers chance to make things better

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

With Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson visiting Dorn VA today, veterans like Thomas Eppink are hoping that the opportunity to make needed changes presents itself.

Eppink has spent most of his life serving in military service. He first served his country as a soldier in Afghanistan. These days, he serves dozens of military vets.

"I start with the denied application and I start taking through the process," Eppink said.

Eppink's role is to try to help the vets collected much needed benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"They're swamped," Eppink said. "They're overwhelmed. There are some good folks who work for VA. Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of good ones. They know what they're doing and they care, but some people are just collecting a paycheck and the system is so bogged down."

It's a system that Eppink said needs new thinking in processing claims. According to recent data from Veterans Affairs, close to 560,000 are still pending nationally. The attorneys said those claims get denied the first time in many cases leaving many veterans turning to lawyers like him.

"It's easier for them to deny one than it is to approve one," Eppink said.

Eppink believes part of the answer may be getting vets legal help earlier. He said he can't step in until a claim is denied according to the law. However, Eppink said if that changes, some petitions for benefits could get processed faster which could reduce wait times and bring down the backlog.

"It replenishes itself under the current law," Eppink said. "I'm not going to be rich. I don't care if I'm rich, but I'd really like the opportunity to help my fellow vets."

For now, they are changes he hopes will come about as the reality of his clients' problems get more attention.

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