Top Vet Rep

Warren County’s veterans affairs director has won every County of the Quarter award for the western district of Pennsylvania.

So far, that’s only two, but Ed Burris and Warren County topped the other 26 counties in the district to claim the “Excellence in Veterans Benefits Claims” award for the first two fiscal quarters of 2012-2013. The award is based on a combination of the number of claims processed per veteran and the amounts awarded per veteran.

“It’s a new award recognizing county directors for their hard work in service to veterans,” Brian Natali, chief of the Division of Veterans Services and Programs of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said.

“Ed is doing a fantastic job taking care of the veterans of Warren County,” Natali said.

Burris is the immediate past president of the Pennsylvania State Association of County Directors of Veterans Affairs. As such, his influence extends well beyond the county. County directors and officials across the state go to Burris. “His district relies on him a lot for his knowledge and advice,” Natali said.

In determining who will win the award, monthly totals are kept for each county veterans affairs director, according to Natali.

Because the award is based on claims and awards per veteran population, counties with larger populations of veterans do not have an automatic advantage. Warren County has a relatively high percentage of veterans among its population; there are about 5,000 local veterans. “According to a study conducted at Penn State, Warren County is listed as one of the top counties in veteran population per capita in the state,” Burris said.

Natali compared the County of the Quarter scoring to NASCAR points totals. The director who has the best per capita claims filed for a month receives 100 points. The director with the next highest result receives one less point, and so on. The director whose claims result in the highest amount awarded per capita also receives 100 points, with the next best scoring 99, and so on until the 27th best receives 73 points. There are no negative points and ties are awarded the same points.

The monthly numbers are added up for both categories and the three-month total out of a possible 600 determines the winner.

So far, Burris has won for the quarters starting in July and October 2012. In that six-month period, Burris’ office generated $1,045,120 in new claims. That number is actually down significantly compared to the previous year, but there were several large claims due to the release of new presumptive illnesses during that period, he said.

Burris said he can’t help a veteran unless he knows there is a problem and credits the veterans of Warren County for their ability to seek help when they need it. “It’s gratifying that veterans are willing to come in and talk to me about health problems, injuries that happened in service,” he said. “Sometimes it’s being willing to admit they need help going into a personal care home or nursing home.”

The difficulty of asking for help can be compounded by unpleasant memories.

“For some, it’s talking about the mental devastation due to elements of war,” he said.

He has found a simple way of finding out what’s going on. “By listening, you get a lot more response,” Burris said. “The biggest key is learning when I need to keep my mouth shut.”