Veteran services

Solano Veteran Services is an excellent resource for those who served

As we remember the attack that happened on September 11, 2001, let us salute our first responders. This column, however, focuses primarily on military veterans, including those trained in later foreign conflicts. The two groups obviously overlap, as firefighters and police officers are often ex-military or current reservists.

Although the US Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, is a federal entity, there are local resources for those who served at risk. I recently interviewed Alfred C. Sims, Director of Veterans Services for Solano County, on a public-access television show, “Health Focus with Dr. Scott.” The Solano County Veterans Services Office is located at 675 Texas St., Suite 4700, Fairfield. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

Sims served in the Gulf War, having entered the army at age 17 after obtaining permission from his family to enlist minors. Sim’s enthusiasm for military medicine grew from receiving emergency care in an air-conditioned field hospital created in the desert heat, a “first-class” experience in his words.

Solano County Veterans Services Representatives can help our veterans “connect.” These defenders receive six months of training from the State Department of Veterans Affairs, or CalVets. Funding for county services comes approximately 50% from the country and 50% from “bid funds”.

A service connection rating opens doors. At a score of 30%, for example, no co-payment is charged. Access to military bases is now possible for certain veterans connected to the service. Sims explained that this is important because “they really try to connect the veteran to the active duty community. The VA works hard to bring together services for veterans.

Sims and I agreed, based on our experiences, that the VA has come a long way over the years. For me, the experience includes training at VA medical centers as a doctor and getting medical care as a veteran at the Martinez Outpatient Clinic. The Sims underwent ankle surgery at Travis Air Force Base, which serves both VA personnel and active duty personnel.

Northern California offers resources for veterans that may fall “under the radar,” but are nonetheless worth mentioning. Solano County staff can explain resources available for medical care, but also mental health care, housing, and more. Sims explained that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, partners with the VA to maximize housing for veterans, often relying on social workers. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, appeared to reverse the progress made over the previous decade. Another resource is the Veterans Home of California-Yountville.

The Martinez VA Medical Center offers a low vision program as part of its ophthalmology services. Full audiology services are also on site. Visual and hearing impairments contribute to cognitive decline and depression in our older veterans. Dental services are available at the Mare Island VA Clinic for veterans with a 100% rating or for service-related dental issues. A new dental clinic takes off at Travis Air Force Base.

Tuition waivers for children attending the University of California or California State University represent “really popular programs that we have here in Northern California,” Sims said. There is a cap on the incoming student’s annual earnings, approximately $14,027.

The “PACT Act,” which stands for “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins,” extends hypertension benefits to Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, while expanding service connection for exposed Gulf War veterans to combustion chambers. Veterans of the “post-9/11 era” must receive broader benefits. Twenty new toxin-related conditions are covered, including radiation exposure. Veterans enrolled in VA care are screened. Research and training will be funded.

The Solano County Office of Veterans Services website is www.solanocounty.com/depts/veterans. Sims describes their office as a “one-stop-shop” for veterans and encourages those who served to “please come to our office.”

Scott T. Anderson, MD ([email protected]), is a clinical professor at the University of California, Davis Medical School. This column is informative and does not constitute medical advice.