Ten years after hanging up her uniform, Air Force Veteran DeAnn Nibbs LeBeau attended a “Bringing Benefits Home” event in Lawton, Okla., to learn more about enrolling in VA health care and filing a disability claim for the first time.

VA partnered with Lawton Indian Health Service and Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma to host the one-day event to identify and assist Veterans across the Southern Plains Region of Oklahoma who may have presumptive disabilities from their military service.

“A presumptive claim event is an opportunity for VA to possibly approve a disability claim on the spot,” said Mary Culley, a tribal relations specialist with VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations and a 20-year Air Force Veteran. “It allows a Veteran or widow to speak with a VA claims expert face-to-face, hopefully giving them a clearer understanding of the claims process. We can help guide them through next steps, give them a point of contact to call, and provide confidence throughout the claims process.”

Two women talk at Lawton, OK, event

Mary Culley, tribal relations specialist, (left) with Air Force Veteran DeAnn Nibbs LeBeau

“What a simple process this is.”

“I had searched online to locate VA information, but the internet is a little overwhelming,” said Nibbs LeBeau. “Very thankful to have found an event like this so I can visit with people face-to-face.”

Nibbs LeBeau was discharged from active duty in 1994 and out of the active reserve in 2000. And while she was eligible, she did not feel she was in need of VA benefits at the time.

“Just recently, I started considering the need for VA benefits,” she said. “And after seeing what was available, I realized what a simple process this is, much easier than what you see online. This was a great opportunity for Veterans.”

Two other Vietnam Veterans heard about the event and drove more than two hours to attend from Guthrie. Marine Corps Veteran Harvey Pratt and Army Veteran Ed Wilson wanted to collect resources and contacts so they could hold an event like this in their hometown for local Veterans.

“So Veterans can see first-hand what is available.”

“We’re very appreciative of what the Tribe has done and all the resources they brought in,” said Wilson. “This is what needs to happen periodically so Veterans can see first-hand what is available. Native American Veterans may have different needs, so we try to emphasize if they received an honorable discharge, you have earned your VA benefit.”

Culley said because of COVID, it had been a while since they were able to hold an in-person event. She wasn’t sure how the turnout would be.

“I was very pleased with the number of Veterans who attended,” she said. “Several Veterans shook my hand and said thank you. It’s a wonderful feeling to know the event helped individuals and better educated them about their VA benefits.”

On site at the event were staff from the Muskogee VA Regional Office, Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, Lawton Vet Center, and Oklahoma State Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Lawton Indian Health Service was also on site providing COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots as well as flu vaccines.

By Jennifer Roy is a public affairs specialist for the Dallas Regional Office of Public Affairs.

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Published on Dec. 15, 2021

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