Veteran services

River Valley Veterans Services, Arkansas. Mental Health, Fort Smith


While many organizations are dedicated to serving veterans in the Fort Smith area, officials say some still fall through the cracks.

Mauricio Gonzalez, Sebastian County Veterans Services chief, said Zachary Arnold, who shot and killed Lois Hicks, 87is the perfect example.

Arnold was an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan from 2015 to 2018. He was honorably discharged and was receiving treatment for PTSD, Gonzalez said.

Although rare, PTSD can sometimes manifest itself in violent actions, Gonzalaz added.

Kris Jossi, Arnold’s neighbor who was at home during the May 15 shooting, called on authorities to better serve veterans. He said the tragedy represents a failure to care for veterans.

“They are fighting for us. They need our care,” Jossi said.

Gonzalez noted that part of the problem surrounding PTSD is the stigma against seeking care.

Many veterans don’t want to appear weak, he said. But PTSD is a serious disorder. It can cause nightmares and prevent people from sleeping or working.

The Department of Veterans Affairs deals with the psychiatric aspect of the treatment. Gonzalez said mental health care has improved dramatically in recent years.

The Fayetteville Veterans Center is also a place where veterans can receive care for PTSD.

At the Sebastian County Veterans Affairs Office, where Gonzalez works, he helps veterans navigate the VA. His office also helps older veterans get into nursing homes or assisted living facilities. They also help homeless veterans find housing.

“Anything we can do to make their lives easier and get them through the quagmire,” Gonzalez said.

The office also helps veterans register for compensation and pension as well as health care registration.

Gonzalez said people come to his office from all over the state and even surrounding states.

“If you’re out there and think you need help, come see us,” Gonzalez said.

Disabled American Veterans

Area veterans can also seek help from Disabled American Veterans, an organization run entirely by volunteers. Jeannette Hartsfield is a Duty Officer for the Fort Smith Chapter of Disabled American Veterans.

Hartsfield served in the US Army Reserve for about four years and the Army National Guard for 10 years. She works with veterans to file claims with the VA and said it can be extremely difficult for veterans to navigate the VA.

“It’s very difficult for a veteran to know how to get help,” Hartsfield said.

Hartsfield said many veterans just don’t know what to do.

“Veterans have more power and say about their health issues in their health care than they realize they do,” Hartsfield said.

Its #1 goal is to provide veterans with the information they need to make the most informed decision.

“This system can serve you, but it tends to be a twisted system that would be the VA,” Hartsfield said.

Veterans can also join Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion for help navigating the VA and for camaraderie.

Resources

Veterans Crisis Line: (800) 273-8255

Sebastian County Veterans Affairs Office: (479) 782-3421, 35 S. 6th St. Room G-6, Fort Smtih, AR 72901.

Veterans of Foreign Wars: (479) 783-8394, 3005 Tilles Ave., Fort Smith, AR 72901.

US Veterans with Disabilities: (479) 646-0928, 12912 Tuscany St., Fort Smith, AR 72916. Hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

American Legion: (479) 782-6719, 4901 Midland Blvd., Fort Smith, AR 72904.