Returning to civilian life after serving in the military can be complicated, but Carroll County has resources for its veterans to make that process a little bit easier. Here are the biggest issues facing the county’s veteran population and ways to work on resolving them, according to some of the county’s veterans services organizations.
Navigating the VA
According to Veteran Services Program Coordinator Jim Hillman, one of the most difficult parts of getting adjusted to civilian life is figuring out what he calls the “labyrinth” that is the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The VA is a great system,” he said Friday. “But it’s also a bureaucracy, and every bureaucracy has a labyrinth — and if you can’t navigate it, it’s very hard to get the benefits you deserve.”
Also, Hillman said some of the benefits are income-based and if veterans don't meet some of the income requirements, they simply won’t be eligible for them.
But the Carroll County Veteran Services Program has veteran services officers accredited by the VA who can ensure local veterans are getting the best deal.
“The VSOs here do understand exactly what the requirements are,” he said, “and how to make sure that something works to the advantage of the veteran isn’t overlooked because it’s not well-known or well-understood, or because you don’t know how to apply for it.”
He said whether it involves the medical system, compensation for disabilities that are a result of service-related injuries or pensions, VSOs can help.
VSOs can help calculate a veteran’s net worth and income, with their eligible deductions, in a way to give them the best opportunity to get pension claims approved as well, said Hillman, since changes that went into effect on Oct. 18 have made the process a little more complicated.
“Our motto here is: Submit claims that the VA can say yes to,” he said. “And what we do here is help the veteran negotiate that labyrinth and submit a claim to which the VA can say yes.”
For any veterans with questions about submitting claims for benefits, VSOs are available to help through Carroll County’s Veteran Services Program by calling the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities at 410-386-3800.
Finding support locally
Larry Burbank, chair of the Carroll County Veterans Advisory Council, said this week that he feels like communication and education is an issue when it comes to helping veterans locally.
“When I retired from the Pentagon in 1996, we had a two-day seminar when I got out,” Burbank said Wednesday. “I didn’t have any problems because we were educated.”
He said he and the VAC try to help veterans adjusting to civilian life through a council subcommittee that goes to Fort George G. Meade and Fort Detrick to talk to service members getting ready to come home to Carroll.
“I’m going to try to welcome them home,” Burbank said.
At the VAC’s monthly meetings, various county groups gather to talk about the state of veteran affairs in Carroll and find ways to work together to better assist the veteran population.
Also in the works is the Carroll County Veterans Services Center in Westminster, which will be funded and organized by the Carroll County Veterans Independence Project.
Fundraising to refurbish and repurpose the building on Malcolm Drive is ongoing and, when it is finished, it will be a local hub and one-stop-shop for Carroll’s veterans.
“All these organizations can help steer all these people together,” said CCVIP Vice President Ed Cramer this week. “We are merging together all the resources to deal with veterans issues.”
“Another issue that the Carroll County veterans often face, particularly among our population — that is either highly disabled, they’re simply at a point in their lives where they’re no longer able to drive, or are bedridden — the county has, of course, implemented the Veterans Shuttle,” Hillman said.
“But it’s specifically to address the issue of being able to get veterans back and forth to their appointments in a timely and effective way for those veterans who are unable to get back and forth on their own,” he said. “And there are fair number of veterans in the county who need that service in order to be able to make their appointments.”
To register and be pre-certified to use the shuttle, veterans can call the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities at 410-386-3800. Once registered, veterans can call the Carroll Transit System at 410-363-0622 at least two days before their appointment to schedule transportation to a VA medical facility.
Hillman said homelessness doesn’t affect a majority of the veteran population, but it is enough to be a priority for the Carroll County Bureau of Aging and Disabilities and Bureau of Housing and Community Connections.
“One great need would be homeless veterans who are in Carroll County and helping them with finding temporary housing — and then helping them transition into more permanent housing — and at the same time helping them find gainful employment, so that that transition can go from temporary to near-permanent, to a permanent solution,” Hillman said Friday.
And oftentimes, like the larger homeless population, veterans who are homeless can be dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Carroll’s veteran services officers help the county’s veterans get assistance with medical care and medication if needed, and can help them get temporary housing in a local hotel.
They can also work toward long-term solutions with Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers — which provide rental assistance vouchers for privately owned housing to veterans who are eligible for VA health care services and are experiencing homelessness — and help prevent homelessness.
“Then there’s another set of veterans,” Hillman said, “who perhaps they are living a month-to-month or two-week-to-two-week paycheck, and something catastrophic happens, something that happen to us all — the engine goes out, the washer blows up, the water heater breaks — we are able to provide that immediate cash assistance to be able to help so they don't slide into a homeless situation.”
Veterans who may be suffering from homelessness or the threat of homelessness can get in touch with Carroll County’s Veteran Services Program by calling the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities at 410-386-3800.