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Life Changing

Reprinted from PN April 2017

Every day, PVA National Service Officers work to make sure injured veterans and their families receive the benefits and assistance they earned while serving their country.

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Doug Woodward could use a few more hours in each day. But, since he doesn’t have the power to slow the rotation of the Earth, he’d probably be willing to settle for a clone. Woodward, 48, of Huntington, W. Va., is a senior national service officer (NSO) for the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). He’s just one of more than 70 NSOs across offices in 39 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico who provide assistance to paralyzed veterans, their families and veterans with disabilities. These services range from bedside visits to guidance in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims process to legal representation for appealing denied claims. Like many NSOs, Woodward doesn’t just help the immediate area where his office is located. In addition to serving the Huntington area, he works as a manager for PVA’s central-north area, which covers a few states beyond his own. It’s easy to see why he’s a busy guy.

“My day flies by,” he says. “I’m in a job where I look at the clock and think I need more hours. In this job, I want the clock to slow down.”

Woodward has about 500 cases that he and his senior secretary handle alone at their Huntington office. Each of those cases has a story. Each is connected to a person who is very likely struggling with some type of service-connected disability or chronic illness. Each of those people looks to Woodward for help. Because requesting and then finally receiving benefits can be a process. It can take months. Sometimes longer. As an NSO, Woodward knows the drill. He understands how to advocate for veterans in need of benefits, a majority of whom qualify for service-connected compensation, which means their illness or injury can be traced to their days in active duty. While PVA focuses its services toward veterans who have sustained a spinal-cord injury or live with spinal-cord disease, Woodward says his office has become known for working with veterans who have been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS.

“It’s a presumptive diagnosis of active duty,” Woodward says of ALS. “They are entitled to 100 percent service benefits. I think it’s becoming more and more well-known.”

His Door Is Open

For Woodward, each day brings a different challenge. He has an open door policy, allowing veterans to walk in without an appointment to discuss their needs or concerns. And just about every day someone does. When they do, Woodward meets with them without pause. He starts each day by clearing his inbox and returning calls and then gets to work on checking his diary, a log of active claims used by every NSO to track the progress of their cases and remind them of important case milestones that may need to be addressed. It serves as a handy, electronic to-do list. Depending on the claim, Woodward knows it wouldn’t be beneficial to check on its progress until 90 to 120 days past the day it was filed. For appeals, he may not get any type of meaningful update for up to six months.

“The appellate process takes significantly longer than a new claim,” he says.

And therein lies some of the frustration. Not his, necessarily, but from the veterans with whom he works. Woodward gets the angry phone calls. And the hang-ups, sometimes. But there’s an empathy there. Woodward can appreciate the feelings on the other end of the line. So the let-downs make the wins all the more satisfying.


Doug Woodward handles about 500 veterans’ cases in his Huntington, W. Va., office.

“The job can be incredibly gratifying,” he says. “We do some things that help veterans in such a tremendous way that it can be
life-changing.”

Doug Woodward could use a few more hours in each day. But, since he doesn’t have the power to slow the rotation of the Earth, he’d probably be willing to settle for a clone. Woodward, 48, of Huntington, W. Va., is a senior national service officer (NSO) for the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). He’s just one of more than 70 NSOs across offices in 39 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico who provide assistance to paralyzed veterans, their families and veterans with disabilities. These services range from bedside visits to guidance in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims process to legal representation for appealing denied claims. Like many NSOs, Woodward doesn’t just help the immediate area where his office is located. In addition to serving the Huntington area, he works as a manager for PVA’s central-north area, which covers a few states beyond his own. It’s easy to see why he’s a busy guy.

“My day flies by,” he says. “I’m in a job where I look at the clock and think I need more hours. In this job, I want the clock to slow down.”

Woodward has about 500 cases that he and his senior secretary handle alone at their Huntington office. Each of those cases has a story. Each is connected to a person who is very likely struggling with some type of service-connected disability or chronic illness. Each of those people looks to Woodward for help. Because requesting and then finally receiving benefits can be a process. It can take months. Sometimes longer. As an NSO, Woodward knows the drill. He understands how to advocate for veterans in need of benefits, a majority of whom qualify for service-connected compensation, which means their illness or injury can be traced to their days in active duty. While PVA focuses its services toward veterans who have sustained a spinal-cord injury or live with spinal-cord disease, Woodward says his office has become known for working with veterans who have been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS.

“It’s a presumptive diagnosis of active duty,” Woodward says of ALS. “They are entitled to 100 percent service benefits. I think it’s becoming more and more well-known.”

His Door Is Open

For Woodward, each day brings a different challenge. He has an open door policy, allowing veterans to walk in without an appointment to discuss their needs or concerns. And just about every day someone does. When they do, Woodward meets with them without pause. He starts each day by clearing his inbox and returning calls and then gets to work on checking his diary, a log of active claims used by every NSO to track the progress of their cases and remind them of important case milestones that may need to be addressed. It serves as a handy, electronic to-do list. Depending on the claim, Woodward knows it wouldn’t be beneficial to check on its progress until 90 to 120 days past the day it was filed. For appeals, he may not get any type of meaningful update for up to six months.

“The appellate process takes significantly longer than a new claim,” he says.

And therein lies some of the frustration. Not his, necessarily, but from the veterans with whom he works. Woodward gets the angry phone calls. And the hang-ups, sometimes. But there’s an empathy there. Woodward can appreciate the feelings on the other end of the line. So the let-downs make the wins all the more satisfying.

“The job can be incredibly gratifying,” he says. “We do some things that help veterans in such a tremendous way that it can be 
life-changing.”

Lisa Nicita is a freelance writer and public relations professional living in Gilbert, Ariz.

 

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