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Guest Column: Helping Veterans is the Right Thing to Do

This guest column is written by Mike Bekaert. Mike is the Director of In-State Military and Veteran Affairs for U.S. Senator Mike Rounds. Mike served 30 years in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard. He graduated from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy and retired from the South Dakota National Guard as the sixth State Command Sergeant Major.

I often tell people I am living the dream and I have one of the best jobs in the world. For 30 years I served in the military and now I spend my days trying to help the men and women who served beside me, the veterans I never met and the families of veterans who are unable to advocate for themselves.

I am humbled to be the boots on the ground for more than 72,000 veterans that call South Dakota home. And I am honored to work for a Senator who cares so deeply about our veterans.

In 2021, approximately 25 percent of the inquiries we received in our office were from veterans. Some needed help scheduling appointments through the VA, some needed help deciphering the medical bills they were receiving and others needed help retrieving their military records.

While on the surface these may sound like simple requests, for anyone who has had to wade through the bureaucracy of some federal agencies, you know that each request can bring its own set of challenges. Thankfully, I’m not alone. We have a team of constituent service representatives who serve the people of South Dakota. It’s a tough job that requires a lot of persistence and compassion.

Let me give you a couple of examples of the challenges we face on a daily basis. Our office worked with one Korean War veteran who did not have a copy of his military medical records. During his time in service, he sustained injuries that put him in the hospital in Japan, Hawaii and Denver, yet he was unable to use VA services because his records were lost.  This man had been injured defending his country – and all of us – but he was unable to get the medical care he needed.

Long story short, we were able to locate the records and not only did he receive the help he needed, he was also eligible for six years of retroactive pay for his full disability. It’s a happy ending, but he shouldn’t have had to fight for what was rightfully his.

Another example can be found in a veteran who contacted our office after a seven-year appeal to obtain the military benefits he earned. He was moving to hospice care due to terminal cancer and he wanted the benefits to make sure his family was taken care of. We were able to get the benefits in order the day before this man passed away. Surely someone who put his life on the life for us shouldn’t have to spend his final days fighting the government for the money he was owed.

The bottom line is, our country needs to do better by our veterans. As any veteran knows, the concurrent receipt issue needs to be figured out so that our veterans don’t have to lose their disability retirement income for their disability benefits. Veterans need more access to VA and VA approved doctors and health resources. And veterans need good health insurance from the day they enter the military until the day they die.

Senator Rounds continues to look for and promote legislation that will benefit our veterans because it’s the right thing to do. And he continues to push his staff to serve those people that served us. We truly are making a difference – one veteran at a time.

John F. Kennedy summed it up best when he said this of our veterans – “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Or as I like to tell people – we don’t know them, but we owe them.

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