A stay-at-home order was issued in early April for Oklahoma residents age 65 and over and vulnerable individuals with serious underlying medical conditions. But for those veterans falling in either of those categories and in need of help with their benefits claim, American Legion Post 88 in Norman has been available to assist them.
Since the stay-at-home order was issued, the post’s service officers have been conducting weekly office hours to provide claims assistance. The hours are typically 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and all necessary precautions are taken to ensure social distancing and safety.
“We are veterans helping veterans and their families, and those needs have not stopped because of the COVID-19 situation,” said Carl Ellison, the post’s senior service officer. “If anything, the need is even greater, which is why we have not halted our efforts since the beginning.”
Post 88’s service officers are Department of Veterans Affairs-accredited and are available for walk-in visits from veterans, who can also schedule appointments for different days. Ellison said precautions are being taken to limit exposure to COVID-19 and prevent violation of the 10-person maximum rule for gathering. If more than 10 people come to the post during the sessions, they wait in their cars until it is their time to see a service officer.
Ellison and fellow service officers Harley McPeek, Coy Hensley and Tammie Richard have handled claims not only from Oklahoma, but also from veterans living in Texas and Kansas. Ellison regularly checks the Veterans Benefits Management System to get status updates for any veterans he represents.
“Many of these claims are time-sensitive,” Ellison said. “People are running out of money. So they can come in and see us, and we maintain that social distancing and are able to help them.”
Helping veterans through the claims process is a calling for Ellison, but “it’s also essential that we do this to keep things going,” he said. “People just can’t sit here – especially our (older) veterans and their spouses – without knowing what’s going on.
“I’ve been doing claims for approximately 30 years off and on. So yes, it is a passion for me. But there’s a real need for this now, and we’re trying to meet that need.”