12/18/2015 - New office will benefit Fredericksburg regional veterans

Whether it’s health benefits, disability compensation, pensions or survivor benefits, Fredericksburg-area veterans — and their families — now have a one-stop shop that can help them access those services and more.

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services opened its first benefits office in Spotsylvania County on Monday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony headlined by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The office is off U.S. 1 on Spotsylvania Avenue in one of the former Capital One office buildings.

The office has two veteran services representatives, a veteran services administrator and a regional manager on staff to assist veterans and their family members in filing claims for federal benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “We’re the link between the federal VA system and the veteran,” said Quinten Epting, the office’s veteran services administrator. McAuliffe, who landed at Stafford Regional Airport before speaking and touring the office, said that Virginia remains on the forefront of assisting its veterans—and that there remains much to accomplish.

“We were the first state in America to functionally end veteran homelessness. Does that mean we ended homelessness? Of course not,” he said. “Tomorrow, there is going to be a veteran who’s homeless, and we in Virginia now have an entire system put together . . . and we have a community that is put together now so that it is brief, rare, and non-recurring.”

The governor also reiterated his plan to allocate about $13 million for veterans support services in his state budget plan, set for a Thursday reveal, including $7.8 million in education and workforce training, and $1 million for outreach initiatives. “Our goal is to make Virginia the most veteran-friendly state in the United States of America,” he said. Adm. John Harvey Jr., the state secretary of veterans and defense affairs, said the Fredericksburg area had been highlighted as a hotspot of veterans growth in recent years, making it a prime candidate for a new office. “This means improved service, and it also means we’re getting our people into the kind of spaces that are 21st century spaces,” he said. “Before, they were in offices that you’d be embarrassed to send anyone into, and they sent the wrong signal.

“But now, I think, we’ve really got it cooking here, and we’re going to be able to provide the types of service that these veterans deserve.”
Prior to Monday’s opening of the Fredericksburg office, area veterans had to visit the next-closest office in Quantico, or travel south to offices in Henrico and Richmond, for the same services.

Robert Singer, a veterans employment specialist with the Virginia Employment Commission, said the office would go a long way to assisting not just area veterans, but their families too.“You have to have places like this, not just for veterans,” he said, “but for their families that may have benefits coming up that they don’t know about.” Singer, who is also sergeant-at-arms for the local Marine Corps League detachment, said the benefits office would definitely be busy soon enough: “There’s no shortage of veterans to help.”