Expo connects Los Banos-area military veterans with health and other benefits

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comApril 18, 2013 

A veteran of the Air Force, Stan Clancy said he's been without benefits since he retired a few months back.

"I knew about veterans benefits, but I didn't know how to go about getting signed up," the 52-year-old Los Banos resident said. "This is a really big plus for me."

Clancy received the information Wednesday at the California Department of Veterans Affairs expo in Los Banos. It was organized by the department and the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and held at Bethel Community Church.

Clancy said he touched base with several veterans services.

Janice Quinn, the Fresno VA's rural health coordinator, said her office represents the counties of Merced, Mariposa, Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare.

"Things like this is what we do for veterans to help them get health care," Quinn said, adding that includes Los Banos.

"A lot of veterans do not know that they're eligible for health care," she said.

According to the department's statistics, 41 percent of veterans in the system live in rural regions. The Office of Rural Health also focuses on American Indian veterans -- who serve at the highest rate proportionately but access the fewest services -- and an audio-video health service called Telehealth.

Nurse Kathy Humphrey, the Telehealth coordinator, said the service uses home monitoring, video computer conferencing and closed circuit conferencing to give rural veterans access to specialists.

"We don't have all specialties in Merced," Humphrey said. "This keeps the patient from driving a significant amount of distance to have an exam."

The VA Central California Health Care System, 340 E. Yosemite Ave., in Merced, is the closest clinic to Los Banos with Telehealth equipment. Humphrey said the equipment is good for diagnosing skin lesions, diabetic retinopathy, mental health and a number of other specialties.

Veteran employment

The Economic Development Department caters to men and women of the armed services through the Veterans Intensive Program.

Donald Strong, disabled veterans outreach program specialist, said his office meets with veterans to assess their capabilities and needs.

"If they have barriers to employment, we try to work with them to remove those," he said, adding many don't know EDD offices have a representative for those who have served.

About 7 percent of veterans are unemployed, according to Bureau of Labor statistics.

Veterans Retraining Assistance Program is aimed at service men and women between 35 and 60 years old. Strong said the program, which pays $1,564 per month, is popular right now.

"(It's) to catch those veterans that may not have the GI Bill or that used it in the past and are without work," Strong said.

Merced College Los Banos Campus Counselor Michelle Gilardi specializes in the veterans who visit the Los Banos center.

"They'll come in with a VA benefit and they don't always know that they're eligible for financial aid and other services as well," she said.

Veterans who visit a counselor and file for a VA award letter get registration preference, Gilardi said. The school also offers the Military Veterans of Merced College Club.

Homeless vets

About 13 percent of Merced County's homeless are veterans, according to the Merced County Association of Governments Continuum of Care 2012 count.

That works out to 63 homeless veterans in the county and about 10 in Los Banos.

Lorene Garrett-Browder, a clinical social worker for Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, said her office works to get service men and women off of the street. Continuum secured 25 vouchers for homeless veterans last year.

"We need more housing for families, we need more housing for veterans in general," she said.

Some of those veterans have drug problems, while others suffer from post-traumatic stress or a debilitating injury, Garrett-Browder said.

Finding the service men and women on the street is part of the issue.

"That's why they have these outreach events," she said.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

enterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.

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