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County says many veterans are missing out on benefits

The Veterans Services director says thousands in Montco don't even know they're entitled to benefits like pension and disability. The iffice is boosting outreach to help them.

The population of veterans in Montgomery County is under-reported and under-served, according to a recent report from the county's Veteran Services Director.

Tracy Pennycuick, who took over the office in January after retiring from active duty, told the commissioners she's working to increase outreach.  Many veterans, Pennycuick said, are unaware that they qualify for benefits, let alone that there's a county agency to help them apply.

"Here in Montgomery County, we have 58,000 known veterans.  But it's such a skewed number.  We estimate there are really about 65,000," Pennycuick said.  That's because when servicemembers leave active duty, they have the option of forwarding their discharge to the state; if they choose not to, "we have no way of capturing them."

Montco has the state's largest population of veterans over 65, but the smallest number of pension applications, Pennycuick said.  In addition to pensions, veterans may qualify for disability, real estate tax credits, emergency assistance, and other benefits.  For many of those categories, the spouse or dependents are entitled to receive the benefits after the veteran's death.  And sometimes the benefits can be received retroactively, Pennycuick said.

"I still have Vietnam veterans who are chronically ill from Agent Orange, and they have no idea they're entitled to compensation," she said.

Most veterans find out about the office through word of mouth, the director said.  But her staff have also increased outreach efforts, leading to a tripling of pension applications over the last three months.  The county's new Navicates program should help make outreach and coordination even more effective, she said.

Anyone who thinks they may be entitled to benefits can contact the Veterans Services Office at 610-278-3285, or visit the county Human Services Center at 1430 DeKalb Street in Norristown.  A list of links and resources is also posted on the county website.