By Isabel Vander Stoep / [email protected]
For veterans in rural areas, finding medical or financial support can mean hours of driving to the nearest Veterans Affairs (VA) office.
Fighting this was the motivation for the WestCare Foundation to open its first Veterans Connection cafe at the Mountain View Library in Randle in November 2019. Following Randle’s success, the program was established in January in Westport, according to the regional coordinator. of WestCare, Donald Lachman.
Through WestCare’s partnership with the Timberland Regional Library, veterans and family members in the Randle area can make an appointment at the library with a duty officer for home care assistance. health, pensions, medical equipment and other benefits.
According to previous reports in The Chronicle, Vietnam veterans who suffer from diabetes due to Agent Orange exposure were guided through the often complicated disability compensation paperwork at the library.
At the time of the program’s launch, Mary Prophit was the director of the Mountain View library. She is a veteran herself and was very passionate about the program.
Today, Judi Brummett, who has worked for Timberland for several years, is the manager of the Packwood and Mountain View libraries. During her years at Randle, she collected many memorabilia from the Veterans Connection Cafe to benefit local people and families.
“We have another client who served in Vietnam who suffered from severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) to the point that it was hard on his family. And he is now receiving advice. I think he’s had his benefits increased as well, so he has extra income, and his wife says he’s a totally different person now,” Brummett said, in one of many other examples of clients who have been helped. “She’s just shocked at the change it’s made in him, and not just in him but also in her because things at home are so much more comfortable now.”
Last year, the VA clinic in Chehalis was closed. Even when they were open, veterans of the Randle area had to drive over an hour to get there. Now the nearest VA office is Olympia. Even though the service cafe is only open once a month (and won’t be in March, as the duty officer is going to be operated on), it still has a huge impact on the lives of these veterans. rural people and their families. .
Timberland Regional Library data from February 2020 showed that each of the adult populations in its five counties — Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Thurston and Pacific — have more than 12% veterans. That’s disproportionately high compared to other counties in the state and nation, according to Cheryl Heywood, executive director of Timberland.
Brummett also said she believes Randle specifically has a high density of veterans due to its peaceful and calm nature and because some residents move there to escape the chaos of their past.
Rural veterans in Grays Harbor County face a similar challenge when it comes to commute times to the nearest VA office. After the success at the Mountain View Library, WestCare and Timberland opened another Veterans Connection Cafe in Westport in January.
“(It’s) transformative. Not just in terms of recognition for what you’ve done, but actually that pension, those benefits to help you live better,” Lachman said. “That’s the big deal here is that there are millions of dollars in unclaimed VA benefits, pensions and services, and state and county (benefits).”
The Veterans Connection Cafe is made possible through a great collaborative effort, said Lachman, who wanted to thank the following individuals and entities:
• Keith Looker, Director and VSO, Lacey Veteran Services Hub
• Gary Walker, American Legion Post 94, Lacey
• Lucas L. Bruner, MA American Legion, Department of Washington, Department Assistant Duty Officer
• Heidi Palmer, Lewis County Veterans Programs
• Leadership, WestCare WA/WAServes Veterans Coordinated Case Management
• Gwyn Tarrence, VSO, Commanding Officer, American Legion Post, Aberdeen
• Leadership and Librarians, Timberland Regional Library
• Larry Blackledge, Commander of the 5th American Legion District, Southwest Washington