Connecting veterans with the benefits they’ve earned sounds like an easy enough process. But government red tape and the fact that many veterans don’t know what services they are entitled to or what services are available can often leave a service person in limbo or prevent them getting the help they need.
See Also: Benefits QuickLink Program
In order to cut through some of that red tape, AARP New Mexico hosted a meeting of organizations that have programs for veterans in an effort to find out ways veterans can be better served.
“AARP was approached by a few veterans who are very frustrated in trying to get benefits,” said Shanna Lapsley, AARP New Mexico Associate State Director for Multicultural Outreach. “We didn’t know how to help them so we decided to gather as many different groups together as we could to get a sense of what each group does and explore how we can work together.”
Often veterans have trouble navigating the system required to access benefits. However, a number of veteran service organizations offer assistance. For example, the Military Order of the Purple Heart is one such organization.
Bruce Gibson, a national service officer for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said his organization works very closely with veterans to make sure they get all the benefits they are entitled to. The order is a non-profit organization and is not part of the government.
“We have World War II guys still coming in that have never gotten benefits. There are other guys that have tried time and time again to get benefits with no luck,” Gibson said.
He said the government doesn’t make it easy as veterans must provide medical records that show their medical condition is the direct result of their service. If they’ve lost those records, they are out of luck.
“If they can’t prove their own service history, they can’t get benefits. Sometimes they can’t get benefits because the government has made it so difficult,” Gibson said.
Gibson’s organization has the time to work with an individual to figure out how to get the benefits he or she is entitled to, taking hours if necessary, to talk to the person and do the research. In addition to helping with benefits, the Order will also help find other services like clothing and housing.
“We take on the roughest and toughest cases and we’ll get it done,” Gibson said.
Benefits come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes veterans can find help outside of the traditional channels. Some non-profit groups in the Albuquerque area offer specific services designed to help veterans recover from debilitating illness such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Paws and Stripes, located in Rio Rancho is one such organization. This organization run by Jim Stanek, himself a veteran, pairs service dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD.
“Dogs serve as a second set of eyes. A dog can read a person’s output,” Stanek said.
Stanek uses rescue dogs and trains them to be service dogs. He believes these dogs share some of the same symptoms that a combat veteran does – dogs in shelters are isolated, they don’t want to socialize and don’t know what love is.”
Often veterans don’t realize they have PTSD and don’t understand a lot of their problems are a treatable condition, he said.
“Once we start the training – the veteran is so focused on the dog – the vet doesn’t even realize we’re getting them out, into places they don’t want to go,” Stanek said.
Often service dogs can cost a person anywhere from $10,000 to $60,000 but Stanek’s group has gotten the cost down to about $2,000 and none of that comes from a veteran’s pocket. He does have a waiting list but is eager to help any veteran who might need a dog.
The New Mexico Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association also has services tailored specifically for veterans called the Veterans Savvy Caregiver Program.
Colleen Fields, of the Alzheimer’s Association, said, “This is a free program for caregivers of veterans or veterans providing care to a loved one, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementias.”
Lori Montgomery, administrator of the New Mexico State Veterans Home, said she is seeing a huge rise in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia cases at the Veterans Home.
The Veterans Home can help veterans with long-term care and has an onsite lab and pharmacy and can help veterans get treatment through the VA is either Albuquerque or El Paso depending on the need. The Home also has a waiting list.
“These are but a few of the services and organizations that offer assistance to veterans in the community,” Lapsley said. “AARP New Mexico hopes to help get the word out about them so that veterans can get in touch with some of these groups and hopefully get the help they need.”
Contact numbers are as follows: the Military Order of the Purple Heart call 505-346-4874; Paws and Stripes call 505-999-1201; the Alzheimer’s Association’s Veterans Savvy Caregiver Coordinator at 1-800-272-3900; and the state Veterans Home at 1-800-964-3976.