Veterans Support Center meets vets’ needsCarey Torrice
By Linda May, Macomb Daily Special Writer
To the veterans, it was all about keeping promises. Many Vietnam veterans found it difficult to readjust to civilian life, and when they needed medical attention and other services, they felt lost in convoluted and frustrating government mazes.They vowed it would not happen to other vets. They envisioned a place that they, vets their fathers’ age, their children’s age and now their grandchildren’s age, could come to and find answers. And, by the way, it also had to be free.The idea of a vet center that was independent of any government or any umbrella organization’s influence appealed to them. The Veterans Support Center at 16945 12 Mile Road in Rose-ville is there for vets and their families because of Chapter 154 of Vietnam Veterans of America.”It started out as a support center for the moms of people serving in Operation Desert Storm,” former chapter president Pat Daniels said. Office space in Eastpointe was donated to a Gulf War family support group. In 1991, the keys were ceremoniously turned over by the family group to the veterans chapter that later relocated it to a bigger space.”If we took money from some source, they would want us to gather information on whoever comes in for help. We don’t want that to happen,” Daniels said. “This is by the vets for the vets, and we do what we do without all the red tape. Guys can come in and know it does not have the stigma of the government. Some are much more apt to come to this vet center for help than go to the McNamara building or the VAMC (Veterans Affairs Medical Center.”)Chapter members initiated the Macomb County Veterans Food Bank. One chapter member, who was employed by Michigan Works finding work for veterans, convinced his boss to let him find jobs from the center one day each week where vets feel comfortable.It is a place where veterans and their families can talk to each other from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or to a professional counselor at an appointed time on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Other services and meetings occur during evening hours.Vet Center supporter Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Donald G. Miller, a military veteran himself, remarked on the willingness of Chapter 154 “to assist young vets in identifying and applying for benefits that are available, but not obvious,” and “to counsel and refer them to professional health providers.”The center is run entirely by volunteers with donations and proceeds from fundraisers. Groups and individuals donate money. Vets raffle classic cars, money prizes and motorcycles, and sell military items like flags, caps and T-shirts.”There’s no federal or state or county money,” Daniels said. “We never applied for any. We don’t want to be dictated to about who we can take care of or how. We do whatever we have to do to generate income to keep the doors open and the lights on. It’s amazing the number of people over the years who have gotten help at the Vet Center who drop in a year or two later and lay a check on the desk saying that we gave them a hand up when they needed it,” Daniels said.Volunteers conduct Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Pointman Ministries, and run the food bank.”We’ve been taking care of everyone from World War II vets to the kids coming home today. “Practically every day, World War II vets need food because they used up all the money they had when they bought their prescriptions,” Daniels said. A counselor certified by the Veterans Administration from Macomb County Veterans Services outreach works at the center one day each week. There is another certified counselor from Vietnam Veterans of America who is paid through Michigan’s contribution to the service officer program. A third benefits counselor with years of professional experience through the Veterans of Foreign Wars takes another day of the workload. A professional mental health counselor conducts private and group sessions. Situations they deal with can be as routine as obtaining discharge documents or applying for medals. Or, a person may need lifesaving medical attention, emergency funds, or surviving spouse or attendant benefits. In a way, the vet center has circled back to its beginnings. The United Families support group for families of people now in the military meets at 7 p.m. every second Friday. The 90-member Veterans of Modern Warfare Chapter 4 of people who have served from Desert Storm forward meets at 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday. “Because we are not in a position to take on the financial responsibility of having our own facility, the Vietnam vets are gracious to let us use their center,” VMW Chapter 4 president Brad Cook said. The two vet chapters support one anothers’ projects like the recent Operation Christmas for 211 families in need, fundraisers and parades. Each has a traveling memorial of names of Michigan’s fallen that circulates throughout the state, and the Chapter 154 honor guard performs funeral rituals for the old and the young. Many Vietnam veterans are now retired and have the time and inclination to volunteer. “I am 48 now,” Cook said. “Our VMW members are still working at our jobs during the day. There could be a day when we open our own vet center. We are still writing the book about what our obligation to our generation of vets is. Civilians cannot understand what we’ve gone through. It’s always good when you can get together with people who share your life experience. Our mission is the same as the Vietnam vets – to point vets in the right direction.” Kermit Harris, director of the county’s veterans service office, said placing Carol Ann Turner as an outreach benefits counselor at the center is part of keeping a promise to Macomb County voters who approved a special millage for his office’s services. “She is kept very busy down there,” Harris said about Turner. “So much so that we are looking at maybe placing another person or increasing the frequency of her visits. She is kept busy all the time she is down there.” The county also offers veterans services at Old Settlers VFW Post 4659 in Shelby Township, Macomb County Community Services in Warren and the Roseville and Washington Senior Centers. Turner said it is not unusual for her to see 16 veterans in a day. One man recently came in to ask about benefits for ischemic heart disease, a newly added presumptive disease caused by Agent Orange exposure. “He read about it in the newspaper,” she said. “He will end up with some compensation for having that disease. I spent time with a World War II gentleman a week or two ago who had come in not really needing VA-related help, but he was overwhelmed.” She was able to advocate in a mortgage situation for him. Another recent success was getting federal benefits for a surviving spouse of a veteran who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. “The vet center is an extremely busy place,” she said. “The food bank has people coming in and out of there all the time. It’s extremely rewarding and Chapter 154 is a pretty phenomenal organization. It’s just a great bunch of guys.” Care packages American Legion Post 4 would like to send care packages to service members deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. If anyone has a deployed family member and would like to provide an address, contact Andy Knapp at (586) 463-5462. Blood drive VFW Village-Stinson Post 9021, at 32100 Ryan Road in Warren, will hold a blood drive 1-7 p.m. Monday at the post hall. To make an appointment, call (586) 264-3490. Send service club and veterans news to: Linda May c/o The Macomb Daily, 100 Macomb Daily Drive, Mount Clemens MI 48046 or [email protected] Phone/fax (586) 791-8116.