Trying to keep veterans connectedOne of the reasons so many veterans lack the government benefits they are entitled to is that they are out of reach, a Stark County official says. On top of that,
By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Dickinson Press
One of the reasons so many veterans lack the government benefits they are entitled to is that they are out of reach, a Stark County official says.
On top of that, the benefits can be confusing, said Fred Fleener, a Navy veteran from Dickinson.
“They send you a lot of information,” Fleener said. “But if you really look it over and study it you can usually figure out what you might be eligible for.”
Confusing forms and the lack of veterans taking advantage of their benefits are among the reasons the county is holding a free veteran’s resource fair Tuesday, June 23.
The onset of the Obama administration also meant changes in veterans benefits, said Leslie Ross, Stark and Dunn county veterans service officer.
“There are so many little rules and regulations in federal and state benefits,” Ross said. “The big problem with veterans benefits is veterans don’t know what those benefits are and how they can access them.”
It is the first time for a veterans service fair in the area.
“I just saw that we had a need and it would be a great way to get everyone to the table for some questions and answers and having some representation from multiple sources,” Ross said.
Representation from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Military One Source, North Dakota Military Family Life and a consultant from Job Service North Dakota will all be available for veterans to speak with, Ross said.
Fleener has worked with the Veterans Service Office.
“They’ve been very helpful,” he said. “I’ve never been treated unfairly.”
A variety of programs are available to veterans, but Ross said due to privacy laws, it can be difficult to reach out to all veterans.
“There is no magic list,” Ross said. “You can’t get that information. You have to wait for them to come to you. This is a way where we can provide a place where people can get some generalized questions and maybe we can springboard that into making some appointments and follow-up services.”
Nationwide, 32 percent of veterans access their benefits in their lifetime, she added. About 57,000 veterans reside in the state.
“Some veterans choose not to access their benefits and that’s fine, but I think those that need benefits the most and those are the least likely to have knowledge and information that the benefit even exists,” Ross said. “The people I miss the most are the ones that enter assisted living, nursing home facilities, Alzheimer’s care units, they just don’t know there are benefits out there and I can’t ask because of privacy laws.”
Other county veteran service officers are welcome to participate in the fair,she said.
“We want those counties to know that we are to share resources and information and do as much outreach as we can,” Ross said, adding all area veterans are invited to the fair.
“My hope is that one, it will generate communication and cross talk,” Ross said. “Two, if I get another couple of veterans to walk into my office, that’s more than I had before — any veteran that comes into my office, it doesn’t matter what county they come from.”
The resource fair will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, at the Stark County Courthouse.
For more information, contact Ross at 701- 456-7654.