Veterans’ administrators in Florida are expanding their online services as a means to reach out to former active-duty military personnel residing in the Sunshine State that are not taking advantage of benefits they have earned.
Fewer than half the 1.65 million U.S. military veterans living in Florida are currently accessing state and federal benefits, ranging from the GI Bill to health care services, that they are eligible to receive, said retired U.S. Army Col. Mike Prendergast, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.
To get the Florida veterans aware of what they are eligible for, Veterans Affairs has rebranded its look online, is releasing public service announcements and has established a smart phone app for its new service personnel that have returned to civilian life.
“Some of Florida’s veterans fought for our freedom in the days before television while others never knew a time without personal computers, yet they all share the admiration of a grateful nation,” said Prendergast. “If they aren’t receiving the benefits and services they rightfully earned, we must use every approach available to reach them and set things right.”
Prendergast estimates that 40 percent of the veterans that have settled in Florida are using Veterans Affairs to access benefits.
Mark Alvarez, a Vietnam War veteran and the District 2 commander and Post 3308 commander of the Tallahassee Veterans of Foreign Wars, said many of the vets remain weary of entering the bureaucracy process they had experienced while in the military.
The state agency reports that Florida veterans draw more than $13.7 billion a year in federal compensation, education and pension benefits, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical services and military retired pay.
However, only 260,000 receive service-related compensation or a pension from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. And currently, only one third of Vietnam veterans nationally are enrolled in VA health care or have applied for benefits they earned as a result of military service.
Florida has approximately 450,000 Vietnam veterans as citizens.
Women account for more than 140,000 of Florida’s veterans, while 230,000 are veterans of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.