All too often when our veterans, those men and women who have served our country, visit the Veterans Administration or other government agencies for help, red tape and bureaucratic requirements make it virtually impossible for them to obtain the assistance to which they are entitled.
"Sometimes their claims get rejected, so they file an appeal, and their appeals get rejected," said Ron Wilson, director of the Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center in Little River, SC. "A lot of times they get so frustrated that they just give up. Then, they come to see us."
Wilson is director of the Center, a 501c3 non-profit organization that is operated entirely by volunteers and financed by contributions, whose mission is to assist local honorably discharged veterans with job placement, filing claims with the VA, help with serious financial difficulties, and provide temporary shelter for those who need a safe place to stay.
It's ironic, said Keith Bacon, the chairman of the Center's Board of Directors, that "people on the (government agency's) staff are paid to serve our vets, but they send people to an organization run by non-paid volunteers to resolve their problems."
At the Center, volunteers are retired military and many are former VA employees who understand how to solve those problems and circumvent the red tape. The leave no stone unturned, declared Bacon.
Often, he said, when a veteran goes to the VA with a form needed to obtain assistance, the clerk will look it over, find the first item that is incorrect and send the veteran away until that is corrected. Then, when the veteran returns with the corrected form, the clerk checks and finds another mistake. Once again, the veteran must make that correction, resubmit the form, and the process just continues.
"It's a terrible system," said Bacon, who served in Korea as an Army Captain. "But we try to keep a positive attitude and help them get it done."
Added Wilson, who served in Vietnam and was discharged from the Army as a Sergeant E-5 in 1972, "We also have connections, and if necessary we can talk to our Congressional representatives to get things done. This year we are on track to help 1,100 veterans." Wilson also is a former police officer, college professor, and is an attorney.
Health care continues to be a major concern for many veterans, and those issues often find their way to the Center, which has a network of caregivers and facilities to which veterans are referred.
"When you enlist, they guarantee your health care," said Bacon. "So why isn't the federal government in general taking care of these issues? The VA should follow individual veterans until they don't need to be seen any more."
Wilson says the Center is the only facility like it in the nation. "We take pride in the fact that we have an all volunteer staff, which allows 96.6 percent of all donations to go directly to our programs. The remaining 3.4 percent covers the costs of utilities.
Currently, the Center, which is housed in a house that is more than 40 years-old, is raising money for a new roof. The lowest bid is $7,000.
How many vets will that roof help? Wilson was asked. "Hundreds," he said. "Every veteran who walks through our doors." For more information about the Center, click here.
Editor's Note: This is a preview from an extensive interview conducted with about a dozen veterans and representatives of the Center, and separate interviews with Bacon and Wilson, in preparation for Veterans Day. Watch for more in the days ahead. -- BG.