JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s efforts at informing veterans about their benefits have improved, but more work must be done to reach new veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gov. Bob Holden told a task force working on the issue Monday.
Holden also urged the group to focus on getting benefits to urban and minority veterans. The state budget includes $50,000 more for outreach this year, including a new position of minority veterans benefits coordinator, he said.
Missouri veterans received $549 million in benefits during the 2004 fiscal year that ended June 30, up from $495 million two years earlier, the Missouri Veterans Commission said.
The commission said about 562,000 veterans live in Missouri, and 120,000 to 130,000 of them are receiving benefits, including payments for injuries incurred while serving.
Members of the Missouri Veterans Commission’s benefits task force told of programs that are working and talked about what more can be done to encourage people to sign up for benefits.
Among the task force’s goals were to help veterans submit 4,000 claims and to increase veterans benefits paid to Missourians by $40 million by 2004, both of which have been accomplished, officials said.
Also, ceremonies are now being held around the state to welcome home National Guard members who have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Holden said those events are another opportunity to inform veterans about the benefits and services available.
Pat Rowe Kerr, who works for the commission, has a daughter who recently returned from serving in Iraq and Kuwait. She spoke about the struggles to explain to her young grandson what his mother was doing and to show her daughter milestones in the child’s life.
About two dozen “supermarkets” for veterans have been held around the state, where people can come to one place to learn about the various benefits they may be eligible for and submit claims for assistance.
Another program, run by the Missouri Veterans of Foreign Wars, provides a shop where family members of deployed soldiers can come to pick up necessities such as diapers or food. There are five in the state. Spokesman Jim Hughes said that assistance allows families to save their money for things like house and car payments.
Holden also encouraged the task force to reach out to veterans and inform them of potential benefits at unconventional places like high school football games or other places they attend already.
For information on veterans benefits, call 1-866-838-4636.