Rural Montana veterans will now have easier access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits information and assistance through an innovative, first-of-its-kind, remote benefits delivery pilot program using video-conferencing technology and staffing support.

"Access for these rural veterans is critical to helping them receive the benefits they have earned through their service to this nation," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake, who recently returned from visiting several Montana VA facilities with Senator Jon Tester.

This new video conferencing program, along with VA staff and Valley Veterans Service Center (VVSC) volunteers, will provide face-to-face assistance to veterans who don't live near the Fort Harrison VA regional benefits office. Located in Hamilton, VVSC is a grass-roots organization run by volunteers to assist veterans in Southwestern Montana.

"Through the use of modern technology, VA wants to minimize the distance veterans and their families in rural areas of Montana have to travel to access their earned benefits," added Peake.

With the help of a trained volunteer, a veteran will be able to go to the VVSC to conduct a videoconference with Ft Harrison VA regional office staff to address any needed items regarding their benefits and claims. VVSC will schedule appointments with veterans on Fridays during normal business hours.

Last year, VA spent more than $312 million on behalf of the state's 100,000 veterans and their families. Approximately 16,000 veterans and their families received disability compensation, pension and other related VA benefits, totaling more than $154 million annually.