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Web expo for veterans with disabilities to offer roadmap for VA navigation

A packed convention center — even a place staffed with PTSD experts — is precisely the type of environment most service members and veterans are likely to avoid. 

For many military folks dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, crowds make them jumpy. And due to the attached social stigma of the disorder, the thought of being spotted at such an gathering would make lots of veterans cringe. 

But a virtual get-together where disabled veterans can anonymously ask questions about the anxieties weighing them down?

That's part of the thinking behind the first True Help Disability Web Expo taking place Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central Standard Time. The free event, organized by Allsup — a nationwide provider of services for people with disabilities — loops together more than a dozen leading health, disability, advocacy and social service organizations, several of them adept at working specifically with current and former service members.

Attendees simply need to register to chat all day from the comfort of their homes, local coffee shops, or their places of work. The expo will provide a "veterans booth" where military personnel past and present can seek and find suggestions, tips and advice on how and where to get treatment — including a primer on how to successfully access and steer through the monolithic U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said Brett Buchanan, an Allsup’s VA-accredited claims agent. 

"In my experience dealing with veterans with PTSD and with depression, I find that the veterans do much better over the phone, when they’re in their house," Buchanan said. "I can have better conversations with them then when I meet them face to face.

"I think, absolutely, when you’re going to compare a Web expo to a live expo at an actual convention center, I don’t think you would get those individuals anywhere near that environment with those crowds," he added.

Allsup will bring together representatives from 15 national nonprofit groups that specialize in disabilities, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Brain Injury Association of America, the Invisible Disabilities Association and the National Family Caregivers Association. 

"Our hope is that veterans will find valuable information and resources that they just didn’t know existed," said Rebecca Ray, director of corporate public relations for Allsup. "We know veterans have a lot of options through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. But there are a lot of groups that help veterans that may be new to them." 

While attendees can live chat with experts throughout the day, the expo will offer two moderated sessions for service members and their families: "What You Need to Know About Veterans Disability," from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. CST, and "Wounded Warriors — A Discussion on Veteran Disability Resources," from 2:35 to 3:00 p.m. CST.

"We dive into little nuances of the VA disability system," Buchanan said. "There are special considerations for different veterans — specifically if the veteran has more than one disability that’s related to service, or if they’re a combat veteran they are given special consideration.

"We’ll be talking about the VA process," he added. "We’ll be taking people through, step by step, on filing a claim, what happens if the claim is denied, or what happens if you get a decision and you’re not satisfied with it: are you able to appeal it?"

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