94 percent of the veterans that have utilized their services have either received their benefits or received an increase on their existing benefits
RLC Veterans Assistance, a non-profit organization providing services for veterans seeking benefits in Nevada, all began with Ray L. Connell.
Connell served on Air and Sea Rescue during the Korean War, which is what led to him losing his hearing. Due to the worsening of his chronic health condition, he decided at age 70 to retire from Civil Services at Nellis Air Force Base.
After retirement, his hearing condition continued to decline. His son, Leonard, decided it was time his father sought out some medical services to improve his health. The first doctor they saw said that his impairment was too far gone and that there was no point in giving him hearing aids.
Leonard took it a step further and reached out to the Veteran Affairs (VA) and did the paperwork, which is when his father received 100 percent disability coverage just based on his hearing loss alone. After helping his father receive coverage, Leonard wanted to use his knowledge of veterans benefits to help others like him. This is how the RLC Veterans Association in Henderson, Nevada was born.
Since the non-profit’s conception in 2019, 94 percent of the military veterans that have utilized their services have either received their benefits or received an increase on their existing benefits.
Kathy Hamilton, a retired military veteran and Chief Operations Officer of RLC Veterans, spoke with Off The Strip about their local veteran services, struggles they face when applying for benefits and initiatives for future programs they are working on to help.
What Are Some Day To Day Operations That You Oversee?
I plan meetings with our advocates, which we have a staff of trained advocates certified by the state of Nevada and accredited, two paralegals on staff and I am one of them. The veterans have to protect the benefits once they get them [and] all the office manager’s functions, of course. But, basically, making sure all the clients are being serviced properly.
About many veterans do you assist on a daily basis?
Roughly 5 to 7 per day. That seems like a low number, but it’s really not when you multiply it over the course of a week.
What are the most common services that the veterans seek and why?
The most common issue they come in with is that they’ve been fighting with the VA for years sometimes just trying to get them to recognize a service connected disability. That’s where our advocates come in. We will navigate them through the VA system and show them where they were making mistakes on their own and help them get the ratings they deserve.
Why do you think it’s difficult for them to get their service connected disability recognized by the VA?
The paperwork is confusing. The rules about what constitutes a service connected disability are confusing. There’s a lot of them that are presumptive for the job code, I mean, if you are Infantry, yeah you’re going to have tendonitis and hearing loss because you are continually firing your weapon. You have the people in the offices, so they’ll develop arthritis and carpal tunnel. A lot of people don’t know what they can claim. It’s our job to educate them.
The other major thing that we issue we have is educating the veteran about what is available to them and that they deserve it. The VA sets aside x amount of money for every veteran after they separate from the service. If it goes unclaimed, it gets sucked back into the general budget. In fiscal year, $18 billion dollars was sucked back into the federal budget, so that France could buy fighter planes. Because it went unclaimed it got reabsorbed into the general funds. What we tell them all the time is that it’s not pie, some for you does not mean less for others. That’s a major function, doing the advocacy work.
“Every veteran, at some point in their life, stood up, took an oath and wrote the United States a blank check up to and including their lives. They’ve earned these benefits. They are theirs. We’re just here to facilitate the transfer.”Kathy Hamilton, Chief Operations Officer of RLC Veterans Assistance
Describe what the veterans living Situation in the Las Vegas community is like compared to veterans in other cities.
We do have a good size of the veteran population in Las Vegas. In Henderson alone, we have identified roughly 6,000 veterans. In Nye County, there are 1,300 veterans. There are not many veterans service offices here in town and during COVID a few of them shut down. The DAV and VFW are having trouble seeing people right now. That’s where we are different. During the height of COVID, we just completely went virtual to assist our clients and stayed up and running. Now that we are back in the office we are getting everything done a little more efficiently.
The biggest thing facing the veterans in this town is the fact that they don’t have a lot of options of places to go for help with their benefits. They can go to the VA Hospital and try to talk to someone up there and they don’t get a lot of information. They go to the VFW or DAV they might actually get someone who tells them how to fill out the form but really can’t answer a lot of their questions because they might not be accredited. That’s where we come in.
As far as different from other towns, of course, [as] we know everyone living in Las Vegas and Clark County, that it is a completely different area of the world than anywhere else. The housing market here is actually very nice. In fiscal year 2020, we helped 22 veterans utilize their VA Home Loan entitlement, that is when they are eligible to buy a home with one dollar down and if they have at least 10 percent disability they can get the funding fees either waived or refunded. They don’t realize that’s available to them.
Why do you think many of these veterans are getting misinformation?
Let me give you an example, I’m an Air Force veteran myself. When I separated from the military, shortly after Desert Storm, I was handed a very small booklet that said this will explain your benefits, have a nice life. They weren’t getting the information when they were separated with the military and compound that with a of the VA taste left in people’s mouth after the Vietnam War.
A lot of the veterans, especially the older veterans, just didn’t want anything to do with it because they remember from back then what the problem was. They remember when they came home from Vietnam they weren’t treated very well. Now they are all in their 60s, 70s and 80s now and saying, ‘Uh, things are falling apart. I was exposed to Agent Orange.’ Education is one of our biggest missions.
Tell us about the Projects the Non-Profit is working on.
Through our non-profit arm, we’re actually about to start some support groups, especially for widows of veterans.
Another program we are running right now is that we are one of the few groups in town that will take on surviving spouse cases, which is the spouse’s entitlement to continue benefits after the veteran has passed away.
And then on a business front, we’re looking at expansion. We’re actually hoping to move into California and Arizona.
How can locals help veterans in need in Las Vegas?
We always have volunteer opportunities. Be it answering phones or maybe taking a short shift at our Fantastik Swapmeet (booth) to help identify people who need appointments. We have various volunteer opportunities. They can call us here at the office at (702) 473 – 0410 and say they want to help. We’re always looking for volunteers.
RLC Veterans Assistance is located at 1300 North Boulder Highway, Suite C, Henderson, Nevada 89011.