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1 in 3 Florida veterans not claiming benefits

State stepping up efforts to get veterans to claim what's rightfully theirs

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Tens of millions of dollars in benefits for Florida veterans are going unclaimed because veterans either don’t know they are eligible, or have had a bad experience with the Veterans Administration.

But the state is stepping up efforts to get veterans to claim what’s rightfully theirs.

Larry Ware was born on the Fourth of July.

“I had a traumatic brain injury and I was in a coma for six months,” Ware said.

Ware spends most days at an adult day care center, paid for almost entirely by the federal government. 

“Before I came, I was sitting home, taking my meds, going to sleep, sitting in the chair, talking to the TV,” Ware said.

Unlike Ware, one in three veterans in Florida are not claiming their benefits. 

The result is a lot of open slots in adult day cares.

Norman Pasley, with Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, said of the 35 openings for veterans at the facility, only eight are occupied.

Now, the state is launching a program to get more veterans using what is already theirs.

“We keep them healthier and if we keep them in their home environment, which is very supportive -- I mean they are comfortable in a home environment -- that’s what we really want to do,” said Col. Glen Sutphin, executive director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to the state, the good thing about veterans claiming their benefits is that it brings money into the state economy, but it doesn't cost the state a cent.

Henry Barnes Jr., 85, spends five days a week at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. He said, if he wasn’t there, he’d be doing his honey do list for his wife of more than 60 years.

"You know how it is,” Barnes joked.

Any money the state saves by not taking care of veterans, such as Ware and Barnes, is money it can use to help other families who aren’t entitled to veterans benefits.

The state’s message to veterans: You are not alone. If you need help, call the Florida Veterans support line at 2-1-1 or 1-844-MyFLVet (693-5838).