CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs executive officer Stanley 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 the Veterans Benefits Management System, which is a claims management software used by most Veterans Affairs offices to monitor veterans’ submitted compensation claims.
According to Iakopo, he currently works with three unaccredited representatives, one of them a previously accredited VSO. Iakopo explained that right now, the CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs is only authorized to help veterans fill out and submit veterans benefits and compensation forms. The next steps of the process, as well as real-time updates on the filing of these forms, is handled by the Office of Veterans Affairs in Guam.
In his meeting with Chao last May 3 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Iakopo discussed the possibilities of training and certifying his representatives, as well as authorizing the CNMI office to have access to the Veterans Benefits Management System and to train the representatives on how to navigate the software.
In order to be an accredited veterans service officers, individuals must pass an exam, submit to a background check, and continuously take education courses to receive and maintain accreditation. Upon earning VSO accreditation, the representative receives electronic devices from the Office of Veterans Affairs with access to the VBMS.
Iakopo’s May 3 meeting with Chao was their first face-to-face meeting since the start of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the Honolulu and CNMI offices worked closely to develop an enhanced outreach program where VA representatives met with veterans on Saipan every month and visited Tinian and Rota twice a year, respectively. The pandemic, however, brought these efforts to a halt.
“Although the two offices have worked closely to continue to support the veteran community through virtual means, this has not worked as we had hoped. I never thought the pandemic would last this long but we are hopeful to soon be able to resume our outreach activities,” said Chao.