The challenge is different because of the COVID-19 shutdown of the DAV office at Brevard Veterans Memorial Center on Merritt Island. But, the mission remains the same for service officers at the 720-member Disabled American Veterans Space Coast Chapter 123.

They want to help all veterans through the red tape required to claim earned benefits and services.

Instead of a schedule of in-person case reviews, they must now leave a message on an answering machine for help with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for veterans or their surviving spouses, including those who need to apply for or have been denied VA benefits.

 The machine is checked daily by a DAV service officer designated for that task, according to senior service officer and chapter vice commander George Furis.

"When we got the news about COVID,  we shut the office down and we’re working through the answering machine. They haven’t totally lost contact with us. We didn’t want them to come in because of the risk to them and us. As members of DAV, all of us are disabled in one way or another,’’ he said.

There still are occasions where in-person visits are needed to exchange documents and get needed forms. 

"It’s definitely more of a challenge (to conduct the case reviews) over the phone because each vet has a unique set of circumstances," Furis said.

Veterans can qualify for VA disability benefits for chronic physical conditions such as an illness or injury and mental health conditions such as PTSD, traumatic brain injury and anxiety that developed before, during or after service, said service officer Russ Graddick.

In 2015, service officers assisted 3,280 veterans and their dependents during 6,209 volunteer hours. Compare that to 2019 when the service officers set a record by assisting 4,350 Veterans and their dependents during a total of 14,914 volunteer hours.

Disabled American Veterans Space Coast Chapter 123 is located at 400 South Sykes Creek Parkway on Merritt Island. For assistance, call 321-452-1774.