Females See Action
VA assigns officer to verify claims involving secret missions
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
For veterans claiming they can’t prove a service connection for their disability because it resulted from a secret operation, the Veterans Affairs Department has assigned a liaison officer to the U.S. Special Operations Command with direct access to classified files.
The little-known program has a VA employee work closely with the command historian at the command’s headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., to review files on classified missions for special operations units in all services.
Befitting the nature of the missions involved, the program, quietly launched a year ago, has received scant attention. Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, was unaware of the initiative. “But it does make perfect sense, given the clandestine nature of their business,” he said.
The liaison was established in December 2009 under an agreement between the Pentagon and VA.
The current VA liaison to the Special Operations Command is an Army veteran who was not part of a special operations unit but has the appropriate security clearances to review files, according to VA sources.
Lack of records access has been seen by many spec ops veterans as a roadblock to filing claims, especially for disabilities such as post-traumatic stress, for which there may be nothing in military health or personnel records to verify any treatment while the veteran was in uniform.
If a veteran says his claim is based on involvement in a secret mission, VA claims examiners turn files over to the liaison, who can verify the veteran’s involvement, VA sources said.
If more information is needed, the claims examiner requests that the liaison search for the information by requesting it from either U.S. Special Forces Command or one of its subordinate commands.
The liaison officer then prepares sanitized information for use by the regional VA office handling the claim. Veterans have direct contact with the liaison only if more information is needed to track down records, VA sources said.
Claims from veterans who say they took part in an intelligence operation run by the Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency or other government organization also can be researched by the VA liaison officer if a classified mission is involved, VA sources said.
The liaison officer is a full-time employee of the Veterans Benefits Administration and has access to records involving special operations units including Army Rangers, Army Special Forces, the Army’s 160th Aviation Regiment, Navy SEALs, Air Force Special Operations and Marine Corps Special Operations and Reconnaissance units.
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