'The clock is ticking on all of us.' Columbus veterans search for help from local organizations.
November 15, 2019
Mark Lawrence sits on the front row inside of the Columbus State University Student Recreation Center, dressed in layers on a chilly Friday morning. Beside him is his friend Charles.
Lawrence is filling out a stack of forms on a clipboard while Charles, who didn’t provide a last name, quietly eats a pastry from Starbucks. Both Lawrence and Charles are two out of the many Veterans or Veteran family members the Veterans Experience Action Center event hoped to help this week, or at least give answers to.
“It’s frustrating,” Lawrence said.
The event, hosted on Thursday and Friday by the Chattahoochee Valley Community Veterans Engagement Board, CSU and many other community organizations, intended to give Veteran and Veteran family members access to filing claims, receiving services through the mobile Vet Center and other resources that they might not typically have access to.
All those reasons, plus a personal one, was why Lawrence decided to attend the event with his close friend in tow.
“We were born a day apart from each other,” Lawrence said as he continued to fill out several forms on a clipboard. “But the clock is ticking on all of us.”
Representatives from the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program, Goodwill of Southern Rivers, Still Serving Veterans and more had tables set up around the perimeter of the room. Behind a huge curtain in the back, Veterans and other non-Veteran individuals met privately with officials from the VA to file for various claims and more.
Chick-fil-A and Starbucks had free food for event attendees and flyers advertising services ranging from mental health to a television network with programming solely for Veterans. Every group and organization was there for one reason: to offer help.
Lawrence said he has tried multiple times to get Charles the help he needs, including contacting local congressmen, but still wanted to come to Friday’s event to see if more could be done.
“All it seems like is denial, denial, denial but we want to get those denials turned into a positive aspect. He deserves more than what he is getting,” Lawrence said. Charles, beside him, smiled.
He wasn’t the only person in attendance trying to get help for a friend. Randy Bell, who has been medically retired from the Army for about two years, floated from table to table to find volunteer opportunities for Vets, file claims for himself and learn more information about what is available to him in the community.
Bell said he is often the liaison between his old friends, whom he calls “battle buddies,” and Veterans Affairs officials. According to Bell, even though many of his friends are years removed from service, they can be hesitant to reach out themselves.
“Service members are used to somebody calling them and getting the information on everything,” Bell said. “We go 100 percent of the time with you communicating or somebody communicating with you (in the service). Once you transition, it stops. Now, you have to get into a whole new way of life of doing things for yourself.”
Events like Friday’s help out a lot, Bell said, which is exactly what Douglas Webb wants to hear. Webb is with the Veterans Family and Community Engagement team, part of the VA’s National Veterans Experience Office.
Webb looks at numbers on how the VA can continue to reach out to Veterans in the region and around the country.
“We always want community-led events like this. We are not only trying to shift the narrative around Veteran services but make it as easy and emotionally satisfying as possible,” Webb said.
This is the first event of its kind in this area, according to Webb. On Friday, the event had already helped close to 240 Veterans and Veteran family members, with people coming from as close as down the street, to as far away as Florida and Tennessee.
Webb wants events like these to expand nationally, so people don’t have to travel so far to get help and find resources. That’s where the numbers come in.
“We need the numbers to show the value and return on the investment. We know how impactful these events are, so the more events we do and I can gather that data and show the bosses in D.C. how important these events are,” Webb said.
For Lawrence, who was almost done with Charles’ paperwork, events like these aren’t only just necessary, but vital.
“I think we need to see this more than on an annual basis. Vets have issues every day,” Lawrence said.
Local Veterans field service offices available year-round include:
Address: 1512 Third Avenue
Hours: 9:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
- Phenix City
Address: 1000 Broad Street
Hours: 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Ledger-Enquirer by Tandra Smith.