Veterans Veterans Experience Action Center July 19-20
"They gave up on me, so why shouldn't I give up on myself."
In a story that garnered national attention, Marine Corps veteran Brandon Ketcham posted those words on social media hours before taking his life.
Ketcham's heartbreaking death spurred Daniel Joiner and UnityPoint Health-Trinity to assess how they could be a part of the solution to address veteran needs in the Quad Cities.
"We took a look at what we were doing to provide an access point for care for veterans and to create awareness of resources that are available here at home," said Joiner, director of community engagement for UnityPoint Health Trinity's three-hospital system in the Quad Cities.
To facilitate that effort, Joiner solicited the input of veterans-affiliated organizations at the Rock Island Arsenal and enlisted Army Major General (ret.) Yves Fontaine to co-chair the initiative.
"It started off health-care focused, looking at what we could be doing to address the needs of the community," Joiner said of the pro-active effort.
In time, the group morphed into a VA-sanctioned Community Veterans Engagement Board (CVEB). It is one of 150 CVEBs nationwide, the second such board in Iowa and the fourth in Illinois.
The Quad Cities CVEB also is the first in the country to be started out of a hospital, Joiner said.
On Friday, July 19 and Saturday, July 20 in Lee Lohman Arena, the Quad Cities group will team with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the St. Ambrose University Veterans Recruitment and Services Office and countless other state, local and national organizations to stage the most comprehensive veterans service event in the region.
The Quad Cities Veterans Experience Action Center (VEAC) will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and will provide any and all veterans "one-stop shop" access to VA personnel and services as well as other vital community resources. Registration isn't necessary.
Veterans can expect face-to-face consultations with Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration representatives, who will provide claims assistance, wellness exams, and onsite enrollment for VA healthcare benefits, caregiver support, home health care, and a multitude of other VA resources.
In addition, dozens of local community resource agencies will be providing immediate assistance.
There even will be a therapy horse on site.
Veterans Experience Action Center
The Quad Cities Veterans Experience Action Center (VEAC) will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and provide any and all veterans "one-stop shop" access to VA personnel and services as well as other vital community resources. No need to register; just show up!
Natalie Woodhurst '16, an Air Force veteran and the coordinator of the SAU Veterans Recruitment and Services Office, said the QC VEAC can be hugely beneficial for military veterans of any branch and generation seeking access VA services, benefits, and outcomes that can sometimes take days, months and even years to reach.
Those are groups that include countless St. Ambrose alumni and several current students.
"They can file a claim, make an appeal, look into all of their concerns and, in many cases, get to a result," Woodhurst said. "Of course, some cases will need follow up, but for most to get all the way to a result in one day and in one place? That's a huge benefit for veterans."
Joiner and other QC CVEB members attended a VEAC event near Cleveland, Ohio, a year ago. There, he said, a homebound veteran who had been striving for a decade to have her disability rating increased from 30 percent, only to have a distant deskbound bureaucrat reject her claim sight unseen, came face-to-face with a VA official for the first time. Her request immediately was assessed as valid.
"He was able to on-the-spot increase her disability rating to 100 percent and retroactively award her 10 years of back pay," Joiner said. "A $90,000 adjustment came out of that."
"They can file a claim, make an appeal, look into all of their concerns and, in many cases, get to a result. To get all the way to a result in one day and in one place? That's a huge benefit for veterans."
Natalie Woodhurst '16, coordinator of the SAU Veterans Recruitment and Services Office
More than 14 local service agencies that work with the veteran population also will be on hand both days of the Quad Cities VEAC. Also available will be VA personnel equipped to assist with health care enrollment; women's health; substance abuse issues; homeless outreach; suicide prevention; audiology; caregiver support and home health care; assistance from VA National Cemetery Administration; and more.
Depending on how far veterans are willing to travel for the one-stop opportunity, the number of veterans served over the two days in July could exceed 1,000.
The VEAC will be the largest level of outreach by the local CVEB this calendar year, but the group is in the process of creating a three-year strategic plan with the primary goal of supporting veterans and their families so that none feels "given up on" like Brandon Ketcham tragically did.
Among the larger outreach initiatives is partnering with local higher education institutions to highlight veterans opportunities to make use of educational benefits.
The newest member of the QC CVEB can help extensively with that.
"She brings a new perspective, new insights," Joiner said of Woodhurst, who joined the board earlier this year. "We have representation from the American Legions, retired military and the Arsenal. St. Ambrose can serve as that access point for looking into the challenges veterans are experiencing when talking to our educational institutions. I think Natalie already has been extremely helpful in that way."