In Tarrant County, about 20,387 veterans have a service-connected disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A recent Star-Telegram story highlighted the difficulties those veterans and others like them face in applying for and receiving their benefits. (See: "America's war veterans endure long waits for help," Dec. 27)The average wait time at the Waco VA Regional Office is 458 days, much higher than the national wait time of 277 days for an initial decision on claims submitted to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.Veterans can take steps to improve their experience. First, file as soon as possible. The VA will only compensate a veteran from the date the claim is filed. Also, veterans should inform the VA about where they have been treated for their service-related condition(s) since leaving service.If veterans disagree with the decision, they can appeal. Appealing a claim is a complicated process, but help is available. An appeal allows submission of additional evidence, a personal hearing and maintains the original award date.Finally, don't give up. The Board of Veterans' Appeals sends back almost half the claims reviewed. In many cases, perseverance will pay off.-- Jim Allsup, Belleville, Ill.