Allegheny County’s new Veterans Affairs Officer is passionate about helping local vets get the benefits they deserve

Pictured: Allegheny County’s Veterans Affairs Officer Dwight Boddorf

While serving a combat tour in Iraq as a United States Marine with the 2nd LAR based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Dwight Boddorf of Bellevue Borough was seriously wounded by a roadside bomb. “I got pretty severely hurt and suffered significant injuries to my skull and spine that ended my career,” he recalls, noting that a number of his fellow Marines were killed in the same incident.

That was 2006. Jump to 2019: Dwight now dedicates his time to helping other wounded veterans and working with veterans organizations to get military servicemen and women the benefits they need and deserve.

In April 2019, Dwight was appointed the Chief Veterans Affairs Officer for Allegheny County, a position he’s assumed after working for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Community College of Allegheny County. “While working on the federal level was excellent training experience for me, and we were able to implement significant programs that are still being used today, I feel that I can affect change even better here on the county level.”

How the Allegheny County Veterans Affairs Office can help

Allegheny County Veterans Affairs provides information about benefits, services, and resources available to veterans and their families, and assists them with the application process. “Allegheny County has the largest number of veterans than any other county in Pennsylvania—nearly 80,000—and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has the fourth-largest number of veterans in the country, so getting help for all these veterans right here in our community is an important job,” Dwight comments. “We are an information and resource hub for vets locally.”

Dwight and his staff are tasked with staying current on the benefits landscape on a local, state, and federal level, as well as through nonprofits. Each staff member is a fully credited Veterans Services Officer through the Department of Veterans Affairs, which means they are authorized to act on behalf of military service members who are applying for benefits.

“There are so many benefits out there and our veterans often either don’t fully understand the benefits they may be entitled to, or are not aware of them at all,” Dwight says. “Furthermore, it can be confusing because benefits are tied to certain criteria—for instance, how long you served, what branch, and when.”

Federal Benefits

On a federal level, the County Veterans Affairs Office can apply directly to the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of a local veteran for a wide variety of benefits, including (but not limited to):

• Veterans Disability Compensation

• Aid and Attendance

• Dependency Indemnity Compensation

• Pension

• VA Healthcare

• CHAMPVA

• VA Home Loan

• VA Education Benefits

Veterans Disability Compensation is a key part of what Dwight and his staff deal with every day. “If you have a disability connected to your military service, it’s a good idea to ask an officer to sit down and review your medical history to determine your eligibility,” Dwight suggests. “The disability application process can be complicated. A lot goes into it, which is why the Department of Veterans Affairs recommends that the veteran work directly with Veterans Services Officers such as those in our office. We can submit the paperwork directly to the VA on behalf of the veteran and work back and forth with the VA through the entire process. Depending on whether we’re processing the disability application on a state or federal level, it can take anywhere from two to 18 months to be approved and begin receiving benefits.”

State and local benefits

On the state and local level, the County Veterans Affairs Office can step veterans through obtaining various state and county benefits such as:

• Burial Allowance

• Burial Plots

• Flag and Emblem Markers

• Headstone Installation Allowance 

• Real Estate Tax Exemption

• Recording Military Discharge Papers (DD214)

• Veterans Temporary Assistance Funding 

Allegheny County Veterans Affairs processes about 400 burial benefits every month, yet many veterans aren’t aware that burial benefits are available to them. “If you are next of kin to a veteran who has passed away, give us a call, and we’ll walk you through these specific benefits.”

Another valuable benefit that many veterans may not be aware of is the Veterans Temporary Assistance Funding. “If you are a veteran or spouse of recently deceased veteran who is experiencing financial difficulties for an emergency—say you lost a job, your house flooded, or you’ve had unexpected medical expenses, you may be eligible to receive a grant of up to $1,600 to offset those difficulties, up to one grant per year based on need.”

Dwight often finds that a veteran applying for a specific benefit, like Veterans Disability Compensation, may not be aware of other available benefits, like the Real Estate Tax Exemption. “We are the only ones in the county who can process the real estate tax exemption,” Dwight notes.

Finally, through a number of local partnerships, the County Veterans Affairs Office directs veterans to regional nonprofit organizations that can assist with housing costs, medical expenses, employment, homelessness, substance abuse, transportation, emergency funding, and much more. 

How to get help

The first step in getting help is simple: Call the County Veterans Affairs Office directly at (412) 621-4357 or email veterans@alleghenycounty.us. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Or walk into the office’s physical location at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, 4141 Fifth Avenue in Oakland. Limited free parking is available on the side of the building. 

“If you are just getting out of the service and are seeking a job or are learning about veterans benefits for the first time, call us. Or if you’re a longer-term veteran from the Vietnam War or other conflict and want to inquire, for example, about agent orange, call us. Depending on what benefits you’re applying for, part of the application process may need to be done in person, but the best first step is to call us, and we’ll coach you through what you’ll need to do.”

Ways to stay connected

Part of the County Veterans Affairs Office’s mandate is to communicate information to the local public about veteran-related news and events happening throughout the area. “In the past, we’ve relied mostly on word of mouth, but we’re moving toward more effective ways of spreading the word, including a bi-monthly newsletter and social media feed [https://www.facebook.com/AlleghenyCountyVeteranServices/],” Dwight comments. “If you are interested in signing up for the newsletter, please send an email to veterans@alleghenycounty.us, noting your interest.” 

To learn more or to begin the application process, call (412) 621-4357 or email veterans@alleghenycounty.us.

During his time at VA, Dwight Boddorf developed many new policies and procedures for the Public Relations and Patient Advocate divisions, which positively impacted the veteran enrollment and satisfaction. Under his leadership at the VA, the VA Butler Healthcare System was awarded its first national communication award, and they developed a method to expand communication from 6,000 to 80,000 veterans in the region.

During his tenure at CCAC, the college’s veterans enrollment increased by 16 percent, and college/student debt decreased by more than 75 percent. Dwight serves on various boards relating to military and veterans affairs both locally and nationally and recently served on a national initiative for the VA that helps bring the nonprofit community and Federal government together to solve issues relating to veterans. He is frequently a featured speaker nationally and locally on veterans’ policies and benefits. He has a bachelor’s degree from Penn State and a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He is married and the father of two children.

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