Interview with Joseph Badzmierowski, Director of Field ServicesPosted By PVA Admin on June 8, 2022
Did you know that PVA secures more than $1 Billion every year in disability payments for Veterans and their families? This wouldn’t be possible without the tireless work of PVA’s Veterans Benefits Department (VBD) Field Services Program. This month, we sat down with Joseph Badzmierowski, Director of Field Services for VBD. Joseph, his Associate Directors and Region Directors manage a team of National Service Officers (NSOs) and Administrative Staff in 75 offices across the United States and San Juan, Puerto Rico, who help Veterans and their families get the Veterans Affairs benefits they earned through their military service.
What does the Field Services team do at PVA and how do they help Veterans and their families?
VBD is the largest department within PVA, and the Field Services Program is the largest program within that department. “Field Services” refers to the network of Directors, Managers, Training Coordinators, NSOs and Administrative Staff working in our 75 Field Offices on behalf of Veterans and their families. Field Services represents Veterans in securing their disability and other benefits and ensures they receive quality healthcare. In many instances, when a Veteran passes away, we represent their surviving spouse in securing the survivor benefits they are eligible to receive.
Navigating healthcare in civilian settings isn’t easy, but navigating through the bureaucracy of the VA Health Care System with complex policies and regulations presents additional challenges. Field Services is here to help with these challenges and ensure our members receive quality health care and benefits earned through their military service. Each year through our efforts, the Veterans and surviving spouses we represent receive over $1 billion in payments, which include disability compensation, non-service connected pension and surviving spouses’ benefits. And this does not include the millions of dollars in other benefits such as Specially Adapted Housing Grants, Automobile Grants and Adaptive Equipment, education benefits, life insurance, State benefits, and much more.
In addition to securing Veterans’ disability and surviving spouse benefits, ensuring Veterans receive quality health care is our top priority. We have staff at every VA Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Center who meet with Veterans at their bedside to assist with benefits and ensure they are receiving the quality healthcare they deserve. They also meet with doctors, nurses, other health care staff and Medical Centers’ leadership to address issues and concerns. We work closely with our Medical Services Department, who conduct annual Site Visits at the SCI Centers to ensure Veterans are receiving quality health care and make recommendations to the VA’s Under Secretary for Health for improvements.
Our staff at SCI Centers as well as those located in VA Regional Offices also visit ALS and MS clinics both in the private sector and within VA, as well as organizations like the ALS Association and MS Society to assist their Veteran members.
What is your role on the Veterans Benefits Team?
As the Director of Field Services, my leadership team and I are responsible for ensuring our staff have everything they need to operate at an optimal level and be successful on behalf of the Veterans and families we serve. This includes providing an effective training program for new staff as well as monthly training for all staff and annual training at our in-person Continuing Education Program. In addition to hiring new staff, career advancement through promotions, setting operating policies for our offices and working with VA Staff, PVA Chapters and other organizations and agencies are also key responsibilities. Preparing an adequate budget to ensure we provide Field Services with the resources needed to succeed, maintaining the highest levels of productivity, working with our National leadership team and Executive Committee, Chapters, other PVA Departments and VA Central Office on issues, concerns, as well as VA regulations and policies that affect our membership, are other responsibilities. In addition to our leadership responsibilities, every member of our Field Services leadership team including myself also represent Veterans and surviving spouses, ensuring we maintain our expertise in Veterans’ benefits which also helps in mentoring and training staff.
Describe a moment where you saw the difference your team made for a Veteran and their family.
Sometimes we win a case for a Veteran or surviving spouse and I feel especially proud, because I know no one else could do it. We’ve had many cases in which a Veteran or surviving spouse had been represented by several other Veteran Service Organizations and in some instances, attorneys, who could not win their case. But due to the expertise of our staff, often working after-hours or weekends researching complex statutes, regulations, Court Opinions, medical treatises, etc., and drafting excellent legal arguments, they were able to prevail on behalf of a Veteran/surviving spouse.
It’s a challenge to describe a “moment” in which I saw the difference our team made for a Veteran and their family because I literally see these moments every day. Not long ago, however, I reviewed a case in which our Senior NSO in Cleveland did an enormous amount of research and drafted a brilliant legal argument on behalf of one of our members, securing a retroactive benefit payment for this member of over $900,000. And I’ll always remember one of our members with ALS whose wife was divorcing him and was about to be homeless shortly before Christmas. He was ineligible for VA benefits due to the character of his military discharge. His life changed, however, when he met our Senior NSO in Syracuse. In addition to the NSO’s expertise in VA statutes and regulations, his dedication, commitment and passionate legal argument allowed him to prevail on behalf of this member, affording the Veteran over $8,000 a month in disability benefits and the VA health care he desperately needed.
Sometimes the Veterans our NSOs at SCI Centers visit are Veterans we have represented for decades, and sadly, in some cases, may be towards end-of-life. And the most common request they have of our NSOs is to ensure they take care of their surviving spouse. Our NSOs take this responsibility to heart and do everything possible to secure VA benefits for the Veteran’s surviving spouse, but to also continue to follow-up and check on them over the years to ensure they are doing okay.
When a disabled Veteran calls one of our offices, or a Veteran passes away and their spouse calls one of our offices, the first person they usually speak with is one of our Administrative Staff. And the most common feedback I hear from these Veterans/spouses is gratitude for the kindness, patience, understanding and assistance provided by our Administrative Staff. So as mentioned, it is a great challenge to describe a single “moment” when our staff made a difference for a Veteran and their family because I see these moments every day.
Our primary responsibilities fall under two major areas: the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). A lot of other Veterans Service Organizations only focus on and have expertise with VBA, helping Veterans with disability claims. However, our expertise is with both VBA and VHA. As mentioned, we have staff located at all VA SCI Centers and a few VA Medical Centers and in addition to some of the responsibilities described earlier, we have unique expertise in statutes, regulations, VHA directives and policies that enable us to effectively advocate for the Veterans we represent. In addition, the expertise of our Medical Services and Government Relations Departments as well as PVA as a whole in VA Health Care have earned us great credibility and respect within VA and Congress.
Our expertise within VBA is also unique. In addition to our expertise with Spinal Cord Injuries and Diseases such as ALS and MS, and other disabilities the VA categorizes as catastrophic disabilities, we are well known for our expertise in a very complex level of disability benefits called Special Monthly Compensation. We are widely recognized within VA and the private sector for our expertise with ALS and represent approximately 75 percent of all Veterans with ALS. Since 2008, when VA regulations providing disability benefits for Veterans with ALS were implemented, we have represented over 12,000 Veterans with ALS.
How is the work the Veterans Benefits team does at PVA different from similar work done at other VSOs?
Our work is also different from other VSOs because our organization is different from other VSOs with unique areas of expertise. We are the only VSO with our own Medical Services, Architecture, Sports Departments, and Veterans Career Program. There are regulations and benefits today that help not only PVA Members but all Veterans due to the expertise and advocacy of our Government Relations Department and Office of General Counsel. Our Executive Committee and Chapters are made of PVA Members. Today there are football stadiums, arenas, public transportation, and more that are accessible for people with disabilities due to the advocacy of our Chapters and the efforts of many PVA Departments and the organization as a whole. And these accessibility improvements not only benefit our members, but all individuals with disabilities. Therefore, just as I mentioned that it is a challenge to talk about “one moment” Field Services made a difference in the life of a Veteran and family because I see these moments every single day, it is equally challenging to think of just one moment when our organization made a difference. Our priority is our members. However, it is gratifying to recognize that some of our efforts on behalf of our members at times benefit Veterans as a whole as well as people with disabilities who are not Veterans.
How can a Veteran or their family member reach out to your team for help?
The easiest way is to go to our website’s National Service Officer map to find a PVA representative near you. Just put in your zip code, and you can click on the icon of the office closest to you. Our offices and contact information are also listed in Paraplegia News (PN) Magazine, and people can call our Veterans Benefits Helpline at 1-866-734-0857.