CHAPTER IX - REGIONAL GROUP VOLUNTEER PROGRAM

 

Section 1. Change in Volunteer Terminology

 

*Administrative note: The term "Regional Group Volunteer Service Officer" and the abbreviation "RGVSO" will no longer be used. The term "Service Officer" implies VA accreditation and the authorization to perform special functions which carry the potential for liability if not properly performed.

A. Accordingly, the term "Service Officer" will apply only to VA accredited volunteers. Accredited BVA volunteers are called Volunteer National Service Officers or VNSOs.

B. Non-accredited volunteers associated with a BVA Regional Group Volunteer Office will be called Regional Group Volunteers or RGVs. Duties and responsibilities of volunteers are described further in this Manual.


Section 2. Establishing Volunteer Offices

 

A. Regional group officers are urged to work closely with BVA Field Service Representatives in setting up Regional Group Volunteer Offices at VA Medical Centers and Outpatient Clinics.

B. BVA Field Service Representatives and regional group officers should contact and meet with Directors of VA medical facilities, describe the BVA Volunteer Service Program, and request office space for the volunteers. Official requests for space will be prepared at BVA National Headquarters as needed.

C. VA makes office space available to the Blinded Veterans Association on the basis of its Congressional Charter. Signs on Volunteer Office doors must read Blinded Veterans Association.

D. Regional group members should be kept informed as volunteer offices are established and urged to serve as volunteers. Regional group members should also be asked to donate unneeded equipment, such as tape recorders, CCTVs, and braille writers, that could be used at the volunteer offices.

E. Regional groups are asked to provide financial support, as needed, to help defray volunteer transportation costs and other costs involved in operating the volunteer office. The BVA National Office will make a one-time grant of $250 for the initial start up of a volunteer office.

Section 3. Selecting, Training and Assigning Volunteers

 

A. Regional Group Volunteers (RGVs)

1. Selection. Regional group volunteers must be BVA members or BVA Auxiliary members. No other specific qualifications have been established to be eligible to be a volunteer other than a commitment to the principles of the Blinded Veterans Association, and a desire to help other blinded veterans.

2. Recommendation. Regional group Presidents should recommend volunteer candidates to the BVA Field Service Representative or the National Field Service Director.

3. Training. Volunteers will be provided a home-study training course by BVA National Headquarters. Upon completion of training, and with the recommendation of the BVA Field Service Representative, the volunteer will be awarded a Certificate of Training.

4. Assignment. Regional group volunteers will be formally assigned to a Regional Group Volunteer Office as offices are established. Volunteers may be assigned to a Volunteer Office while completing the required training program.

B. Volunteer National Service Officers (VNSOs)

1. Selection. Regional group volunteers who have demonstrated the ability and interest to assist blinded veterans in the VA claims process, and to work closely with the BVA Field Service Representative, may be considered for further training and assignment as Volunteer National Service Officers and subsequently recommended for VA accreditation.

1a. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rules allow only accredited volunteers to accept a veteran's power of attorney, review claims folders and medical records, and officially represent blinded veterans at VA hearings.

1b. VA rules also require that an accredited volunteer be willing to commit 1,000 hours per year to the volunteer activity. This time requirement is significant and should be kept in mind by volunteers requesting VA accreditation. VNSOs who cannot fulfill the greater part of this volunteer time requirement may be asked to withdraw as accredited volunteers.

2. Recommendation. The Regional group President, as well as the designated manager of the volunteer office should recommend VNSO candidates to the BVA Field Service Representative.

3. Training. The VNSO candidate will be required to take additional training on VA benefits and the VA claims process, and receive on-the-job training under the supervision of the BVA Field Service Representative.

4. Assignment. It is the policy of BVA that VNSOs be assigned to a Regional Group Volunteer Office located at a VA Medical facility or at a VA Regional Office. Exceptions to this rule may be made only by the National Field Service Director.

C. Other BVA Volunteers

1. The BVA Volunteer Service Program envisions a volunteer role for any BVA member or BVA Auxiliary member who wants to help. Accordingly, while the concept of the trained and certified regional group volunteer remains the focus of the Program, BVA regional groups should encourage members, including Auxiliary members, to become active as volunteers at VA medical facilities even though a BVA Volunteer Office is yet to be established.

2. For many years, blinded veterans have been volunteering at VA Medical Centers and Outpatient Clinics. This valuable service has often gone unrecognized by BVA and the regional groups. We point this out to emphasize that volunteer service should be encouraged whether or not the individual elects to participate in the formal Regional Group Volunteer training and certification process described above.

3. Blinded veterans serving as volunteers at VA facilities and not associated with a Regional Group Volunteer Office should be registered with VA Voluntary Services at the VA facility where they work.

D. Supervising Volunteers

1. Regional Group Volunteer Offices should be supervised by a designated Volunteer Manager appointed by the regional group President with the concurrence of the Field Service Representative. The designated manager may be a regional group volunteer or a Volunteer National Service Officer.

2. The designated manager is responsible for scheduling volunteers, maintaining volunteer attendance records, overseeing the work of the office, insuring that a log of daily activities and contacts is maintained, and maintaining contacts with officials of the VA facility. The designated manager should also seek appointment to the VA Voluntary Service Committee and attend committee meetings.

3. Regional group officers are urged to make periodic visits to volunteer offices as well as report on volunteer office activities at regional group meetings. Field Service Representatives will also make periodic visits to volunteer offices.

*Administrative note: BVA Field Service Representatives are responsible for supervising the work of Volunteer National Service Officers with respect to activities involving the processing of claims for VA benefits and services.

4. It is extremely important that the BVA Field Service Representative be kept fully informed of all VNSO claims activities in process. This may be accomplished by monthly reports.

5. Questions and problems arising in preparing claims for VA benefits and services, as well as difficulties in working with a particular blinded veteran or problems with VA personnel, should be raised immediately with the Field Service Representative or with the National Field Service Director.

Section 4. Volunteer Duties and Responsibilities

 

A. Regional Group Volunteers (RGVs) may perform the following duties:

1. Advise blinded veterans and family members on services and benefits available from the Department of Veterans Affairs and other organizations and agencies serving the blind and visually-impaired.

2. Refer blinded veterans to VA service locations, the VA VIST Coordinator, and to community agencies and organizations.

3. Assist the VA VIST Coordinator as appropriate. Provide assistance in identifying, contacting and referring blinded veterans to the VIST Coordinator. Assist the VIST Coordinator, as needed, in arranging blinded veteran support group meetings. Contact blinded veterans and encourage them to attend support group meetings.

4. Counsel blinded veterans and family members on ways of coping with blindness. Work to motivate blinded veterans to attend a VA Blind Rehabilitation Program and to take other steps to cope with blindness.

5. Attend and participate in blinded veteran counseling and support groups, both VIST and BVA-sponsored. Explain BVA programs and services.

6. Attend VA and other meetings, appear on radio and TV programs, and represent the Blinded Veterans Association. Discuss BVA programs and services available to blinded veterans.

7. Encourage blinded veterans to join the Blinded Veterans Association, become active in the regional group, and become volunteers.

8. Perform other volunteer duties as required in support of the regional group.

B. Volunteer National Service Officers (VNSOs) may perform the following duties:

1. Advise blinded veterans and family members on services and benefits available from the Department of Veterans Affairs and other organizations and agencies serving the blind and visually-impaired.

2. Refer blinded veterans to VA service locations, the VA VIST Coordinator, and to community agencies and organizations.

3. Assist blinded veterans in applying for VA services and benefits; accept and register blinded veterans' power-of-attorney, and advise and assist veterans in gathering materials and medical evidence in support of claims for VA benefits or services.

4. Request and review VA claim folders, medical records, military records, and other materials and records needed to assist blinded veterans in presenting a claim for services or benefits.

5. Represent BVA and the blinded veteran at VA review boards and appeals hearings.

6. Assist the VA VIST Coordinator as appropriate. Offer "Service Officer" assistance to VIST for veterans filing claims for VA benefits and services. Provide assistance in identifying, contacting, and referring blinded veterans to the VIST Coordinator.

7. Assist the VIST Coordinator in arranging blinded veteran support group meetings. Contact blinded veterans and encourage them to attend support group meetings.

8. Visit blinded veterans in their homes if necessary. Coordinate home visits with the BROS.

9. Counsel blinded veterans and family members on ways of coping with blindness. Work to motivate blinded veterans to attend VA Blind Rehabilitation Programs and take other steps to cope with blindness.

10. Attend and participate in blinded veteran counseling and support groups, both VIST and BVA-sponsored. Explain BVA programs and services to meeting participants.

11. Attend VA and other meetings, appear on radio and TV programs, and represent the Blinded Veterans Association. Discuss BVA programs and services available to blinded veterans.

12. Encourage blinded veterans to join the Blinded Veterans Association, become active in the Regional Group, and become volunteers.

13. Perform other volunteer duties as required in support of the Regional Group.

C. Reporting Volunteer Activities

1. The designated manager of the Volunteer Office is responsible for keeping a daily log of activities and submitting a monthly report to the Field Service Representative as enunciated below:


1a. Daily Log: The daily log should contain the names of volunteers on duty each day, the names and telephone numbers of blinded veterans calling or coming into the office each day, and an indication of the nature or reason for the contact. The daily log may be kept on computer, tape, or in print. It should be maintained as a permanent record.

1b. Monthly Report: The monthly report should indicate the number of hours each volunteer has worked, both at the Volunteer Office and at other locations. The report should include the names and telephone numbers of all blinded veterans assisted, and the nature of the assistance provided. In addition, VNSOs should provide a brief account of all claims and representation activities undertaken during the month. The monthly report should also list meetings attended and other volunteer activities of note. The monthly report may be submitted by telephone or on a report form.

1b(1) A sample Volunteer Office Monthly Report Form is included in the Appendix to this Manual.

D. Volunteer Expenses

1. Regional groups are urged to support volunteer offices to the fullest extent possible and to make support of volunteer offices a primary regional group activity. Regional groups are urged to provide funds for volunteer transportation, and to purchase Volunteer Office supplies and equipment. There are no BVA National Office restrictions, other than common sense, on how a regional group may use its funds to support volunteer office activities.

2. The BVA National Office has budgeted limited funds to support Regional Group Volunteer Offices. The BVA National Office will pay for business cards for VNSOs only. VNSOs needing business cards should contact the National Field Service Director.

E. Liability Concerns

1. The issue of liability which may be incurred by BVA due to the actions of a volunteer is a major concern. A veteran may allege damage or loss should a claim for services or benefits not be handled properly. Lack of timely or professional action by a BVA volunteer who has presented himself as a "Service Officer" can have serious consequences.

2. Of equal concern would be violations of Federal rules of confidentiality and privacy by discussing a veteran's case outside of the office, or with a non-involved third party.

3. All Regional Group officers and all volunteer personnel are reminded that only a VA accredited volunteer may accept a veteran's power-of-attorney and thereby commit the BVA to further action in support of the veteran's claim.

4. Questions on issues covered in this chapter may be directed to the BVA Field Service Representative or the National Field Service Director.

Section 5. Volunteer Awards

 

A. Volunteer recognition and appreciation are important elements of the BVA Volunteer Service Program. Accordingly, the BVA National Board of Directors has established the David L. Schnair Volunteer Service Award.

B. David L. Schnair was one of the early members of the Blinded Veterans Association and served as a BVA volunteer for 47 years. Mr. Schnair also served in the BVA National Office and Regional Group Officer positions and was BVA's Director of District for many years. Mr.Schnair died in 1993, and in view of his total commitment to BVA and to helping blinded veterans, a volunteer award bearing his name is certainly fitting.

C. The award may be given to any BVA member or Auxiliary member who has provided at least one year of consistent and outstanding service as a BVA volunteer. Regional Group Presidents should submit a letter to the BVA Field Service Representative and the National Field Service Director, by letter or email, of volunteers recommended for the award.

D. Award certificates will be prepared at the BVA National Office, signed by the BVA National President, The Awards are issued at the BVA National Convention.