A ‘historic’ 1st for CNMI
Having a full-time, permanent Veterans Benefits counselor for the CNMI is a historic development for the CNMI, according to CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs executive officer Stanley T. Iakopo, who pointed out that this comes at no cost to the CNMI.
This comes soon after it was learned that Willie Peterson III, a legal administrative specialist for the Veterans Benefits Administration under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, had been brought on by the OVA to help the CNMI’s veterans by submitting benefits claims directly to the Veterans Benefits Management System, which is the claims management software used by most Veterans Affairs offices to monitor veterans’ submitted compensation claims.
Iakopo described Peterson’s hiring as a first for the CNMI and added that Peterson’s salary comes at no cost to the CNMI. “We’re very blessed, and are very grateful for this opportunity for having the first-ever [accredited, full-time Veterans Benefits counselor]. It’s [historic]. …He’s the first person from federal to render and provide services through filing [veterans] benefits and compensations claims,” said Iakopo.
“He is strictly federal, paid by [the federal government]. This is not a cost to the CNMI, and through collaboration and my meetings with the director of the [Veterans Benefits Administration], now we’re here,” he added.
In May this year, Iakopo met with Honolulu Regional Office of Veterans Affairs director Sergio Chao to discuss the need for the CNMI to have accredited veterans service officers and access to VBMS. Peterson, before arriving in the CNMI, was helping veterans in Hawaii. He was brought here to help the CNMI’s veterans partly due to conversations between Iakopo and Chao.
Iakopo said that three of his OVA staff members are now undergoing training to become accredited veterans service officers. He said the three are currently in the initial phases of training and are trained directly by the Honolulu Regional Office of Veterans Affairs in Honolulu, Hawaii. Iakopo said the three are going over a lot of reading material, and they will soon have to take multiple tests on the material.
Before Peterson came here, a Veterans Affair representative from Guam would visit the CNMI from time to time to attend to the needs of the CNMI’s veterans.