In summer 2014, the KANA building is seen through a bed of flowers. Julie Herrmann/Kodiak Daily Mirror

A Wednesday lunch and open forum at the Kodiak Area Native Association’s main building will provide local veterans access to an expert who help navigate the complicated Veterans Affairs system.

The event offered by KANA will feature an open forum with Lucy Gifford of Vietnam Veterans of America. All veterans are invited to attend, as are their spouses and widows.

Gifford worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for 36 years, about half of that time on medical claims and the other half on disability claims, before retiring in 2013. 

After retiring from the VA on a Friday, she took the weekend off before starting work for Vietnam Veterans of America the following Monday as a veteran service officer, providing free benefit counseling and claims services.

According to Jen Smith, event organizer, community veteran representative and Mill Bay Health Center front office supervisor, KANA currently has over 200 veterans enrolled in care.

The number of veterans in Kodiak is without a doubt much higher, Gifford said, as many vets become frustrated with the VA claims process and opt to use private insurance instead of the benefits earned with their service.

Following the lunch and open forum, veterans can get individualized benefit counseling with Gifford in one-on-one sessions.

Topics to be covered include disability compensation, pensions, healthcare benefits, burial benefits and anything else attendees want to hear more about. 

Gifford also urges spouses and widows to attend, as their knowledge of the rules can ensure opportunities for coverage are not missed.

For example, a veteran must notify the VA within three days of entering a hospital to get coverage for that visit. Gifford often hears from vets dealing with substantial medical bills because they were unaware of the rule.

“If (a veteran) is unconscious or having chest pains, he’s not going to be spouting off information,” she said. 

She has also seen widows unaware they qualified for VA compensation following the death of their spouse.

Veterans not in need of counseling are also invited to attend the lunch to mingle and meet with other veterans, Smith said. 

The lunch and open forum will begin at noon Wednesday at KANA Main, with catering by Monk’s Rock. One-on-one sessions will continue until 4 p.m. No appointment is necessary. For more information, contact Jen Smith at 486-7369.

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