Clallam veterans services garner high praises, but organizers also focused on hurdles ahead

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County’s services for veterans are being lauded as among the best in the country, but there is still work to be done and challenges ahead as the U.S. Veterans Administration battles through a national scandal, according to veterans services organizers.

Four area veterans services organizers spoke to about 35 members of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce at its Monday luncheon, and said they plan to investigate how much of an impact the scandal has had on local veterans.

The scandal centers on an unknown number of veterans reportedly dying while on long wait lists for essential care at VA hospitals, and regional administration officials falsifying documents to make it appear their hospitals were providing more timely care.

Clallam County veterans support workers are trying to find out how the VA health care scandal has affected Clallam County veterans, said Venay Money, coordinator for multiple veterans organizations in the county.

Local veterans who use VA medical services are invited to a meeting to discuss how they have been affected — or not affected — by wait times for medical appointments, Money said.

The meeting will be held at 1 p.m. June 27 at the Clallam County Veterans Center, 261 S. Francis St.

An estimated 16,000 Clallam County residents — about one in four residents — are veterans of one of the five branches of the U.S. armed forces, said Tammy Sullenger, veterans program manager for Clallam County.

Area veterans also can avail themselves of one-stop shopping for services through the local Stand Down for veterans, which has become a model for providing outreach services to area veterans, some of whom may have been out of the system for a long time, Money said.

“We were so successful with our Stand Down, [the U.S. Department of Labor] asked if they could pattern after it all across the U.S.,” Money said.

About 100 veterans showed up at the county’s first Stand Down in 2004 at the Clallam County Fairgrounds, and in 2013, that number grew to more than 300.

The Stand Down, run by the nonprofit Voices for Veterans, includes access to representatives from all of the county’s various resources for veterans, free barber services, a dentist, a medical doctor and a pro-bono lawyer.

Many veterans have been away from the military for three or four decades and no longer have their discharge paperwork or other details needed to claim official benefits, said Mike McEvoy, veterans specialist for WorkSource and co-founder of Voices for Veterans.

“We have everything in one place, no questions asked. We take them at their word,” McEvoy said.

He said veterans recognize other veterans; there is a language that they all speak.

“Just ask where they went to boot camp. If they hem and haw, they probably aren’t a veteran. Boot camp, we remember,” he said.

The next Stand Down will be July 28 at the Port Townsend Elks Lodge, and then Oct. 2, at the Clallam County Fairgrounds in Port Angeles.

A Stand Down took place in Forks in May.

Addressing outpatient medical services, Department of Veterans Affairs social worker Jennifer Perfect said the recently-opened North Olympic Peninsula Clinic, 1114 Georgiana St., offers many of the services veterans need.

Services at the clinic allow veterans to avoid waiting for an appointment and transportation in Seattle, and offerings include laboratory work, physical therapy, counseling, a dietician, a caregiver support group, respite care and hospice.

“We will soon be adding a psychologist and a pharmacist,” Perfect said.

The clinic serves about 1,600 veterans, and has the potential to grow to 2,500 from Clallam and Jefferson counties.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 16. 2014 6:27PM
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