Howard County Stand Down displays options for veterans – Kokomo Perspective

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Updated: November 18, 2021 @ 5:56 am
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INFORMATION — A veteran speaks with a representative from the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 28.

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INFORMATION — A veteran speaks with a representative from the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 28.
Evert Seward did not receive a warm welcome home from the Vietnam War.
“When they released me from Oakland Army Base down in California, they told us to go out in bunches because Vietnam Vets were getting beat up on the outside,” Seward said.
Seward and his friend Duane Kelly, also a Vietnam Veteran, attended the Howard County Stand Down event honoring veterans. Howard County Stand Down was held at the UAW Local 685 Union Hall on November 10. The event’s main purpose was to connect local veterans to a variety of resources they might not have previously known about.
“Organizations like this are very, very helpful for us as veterans,” Kelly said. “There’s no place else in the world that does the kinds of things they do here in Kokomo for us. I’m not from here originally, but ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been very pleased.”
Kelly said people’s views about veterans have changed significantly since he came home from Vietnam. He said he is grateful for all the community support offered to veterans in Howard County, especially at events like Stand Down.
“It’s all been very helpful,” Kelly said. “It’s contributed to the longevity of my life, and I’ve met a lot of wonderful people who are here to help.”
Howard County Stand Down had 48 booths offering resources for veterans this year. Many were dedicated to helping veterans with housing. Booths run by places like the Kokomo Rescue Mission and Jackson Street Commons detailed some living options, while organizations like the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Homeless Team and the Kokomo Housing Authority spoke with veterans about housing programs they could be eligible for.
“The process is easy. You just have to call and ask for an application, then get that turned in, and you’ll automatically go on a waiting list,” Heather Begley, director of Section 8 at the Kokomo Housing Authority, said.
Begley said there is a waiting list for project-based vouchers and the public housing program because the Section 8 program is currently closed. The Kokomo Housing Authority works closely with the VA to get vouchers to those who are eligible for services to get them into housing.
“We’re the premiere subsidized housing provider in the county,” Joe Milam, director of Family Self Sufficiency, Homeownership, and Funding Development at the Kokomo Housing Authority, said. “We just want to help people have housing.”
Milam said that in addition to housing, the Kokomo Housing Authority provides services through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help veterans rely less on subsidies.
“A lot of times people think of people that are receiving public housing benefits as just taking advantage of the system, but a lot of them are really trying to work to improve themselves and their children’s lives,” Milam said.
“Thankfully, we’ve got a lot of resources we can get them into that can help them become self-sufficient,” Begley added.
Other services advertised at Howard County Stand Down included education and employment opportunities, financial assistance and counseling, veteran benefits organizations, mental and physical health care, legal help, and information about organizations created for military members. Solutions Day Spa even provided free haircuts.
“We’re giving free haircuts to all veterans today,” a stylist from Solutions said. “I think we’ve done 30 haircuts today. And we’ve even offered to help them out if they would want to return back to us to get their hair done. We would work with them on a price because we know they’re on a fixed income.”
She said Solutions does its best to work with veterans on pricing year-round, and any veterans with questions can call the salon to discuss their options.
“This was our second year [at Stand Down], and I feel like this year we did more haircuts than in the past,” the stylist said. “It was great for us to be able to give back to them.”
Many of the booths at Howard County Stand Down were represented by veteran-specific organizations like Disabled American Veterans.
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“If I get a call from a veteran that’s having some benefit issues or needs some help financially, we can help them out. That’s what the money’s used for,” Rex Ritchie, commander of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 28, said.
Ritchie said the chapter’s meetings aim to educate veterans about their benefits and keep them up to date on legislation.
“I encourage veterans to give us a call,” Ritchie said. “Most veterans don’t know what benefits they’re eligible for or what benefits are available to them, and consequently they don’t take advantage of the benefits that they have earned. That’s our primary goal, to educate veterans and help them get the benefits they deserve through their service.”
One benefit veterans may not be fully aware of is their right to be buried in national cemeteries. Richard Colosky, assistant director at Marion National Cemetery, said many veterans do not understand the details of their burial benefits.
“I think the burial benefits are one of the benefits that a lot of veterans don’t know about,” Colosky said. “If you end up being eligible to be buried at a national cemetery, everything on the inside of the cemetery is free of charge. Your gravesite, your vault, the opening and closing of the grave, the headstone, the perpetual care. Anything on the inside of the cemetery is free of charge if you’re eligible to be buried at a national cemetery.”
Colosky said misinformation sometimes deters veterans from being buried in national cemeteries even if they realize they are eligible.
“They don’t think their spouses can be buried with them. That’s not true; their spouses can be buried with them,” Colosky said.
He also clarified that if a spouse passes first, the spouse is still eligible to be buried at a national cemetery under the veteran’s information. He said when the veteran passes, the plot will already be there, and the veteran can then be buried next to their spouse.
“There’s a lot of misinformation and a lot of people that don’t know exactly what it entails,” Colosky said. “I know it’s not the best benefit, but it’s the last chance for us to honor our veterans with a burial at national cemeteries.”
Some organizations like Mental Health America of North Central Indiana and Turning Point Systems of Care aimed to spotlight mental and emotional health services for veterans at Howard County Stand Down.
“Anyone that has mental health issues, drug addiction, alcohol addiction, sometimes homelessness, they come in to Turning Point,” Janita Beall, a volunteer at Turning Point, said. “Turning Point assesses them and determines where these people can go to get help.”
Beall said Turning Point is a navigation system that can direct people to the best care. She said they do not see as many older veterans, but some young veterans utilize the resources Turning Point provides.
There were many additional organizations at Howard County Stand Down that described themselves as a type of navigation system to help veterans find certain services. Some groups offered financial counseling, while others focused on health care services specifically for veterans. Some groups are dedicated specifically for veterans and military members to learn about and apply for benefits.
Dean Hockney, the Howard County Veteran Service Officer, said his office is meant to help veterans navigate benefits.
“The Howard County Veterans Service Office is here to assist veterans with filing VA claims, we can help them find housing; just about anything a veteran may need help with, that’s what our office is there for,” Hockney said. “Our number one thing is helping them with their VA claims. We’re not a VA office, we’re a county office, but we assist them through the entire process because the paperwork for the VA can be very complicated.”
Hockney said his office helps between 150 to 200 veterans or veteran family members each month. The Howard County Veterans Service Office can also help veterans understand and respond to letters from the VA and apply for benefits.
“We can help them get the benefits they’ve earned through their service that they’re sometimes not getting,” Hockney said. “They’ve earned it, and we can help them get those benefits. Whether it’s healthcare, or disability compensation, or even education benefits.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Howard County Stand Down was that there are many local resources for veterans to utilize. If one organization is unable to help, they will likely contact another group that can.
“It’s a lot of help for a lot of different people. Financially, medically,” Veteran Jeff Hounchell said about the Stand Down event. “Everyone’s got different paths that they’re following, and it looks like there’s a lot of lights at the end of the tunnels when they maneuver their way down their path to reach their goals. There’s a lot of good information out here.”
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