WorkSource event connects veterans to services

Veterans' advocates say one of the biggest obstacles in trying to help veterans is simply getting information to them about the support services available.

Sometimes it's because veterans just don't know what's there or how to access programs that can help them find jobs, housing or go back to school.

"We have a lot of services here, but they're all spread out," said Jason Alves, VetCorps representative at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

Other times, it's because veterans are fiercely independent and don't want what they perceive as charity.

"I deal primarily with younger veterans, and I have to tell them the (Veterans Administration) is not a handout," Alves said. "The services we're willing to offer are not handouts. They are things they're entitled to because they have given service to their country."

So Alves and the staff at WorkSource Columbia Basin put their heads together to come up with a way to get veterans connected with the programs and services that help them re-establish their lives after being in combat overseas or to cope with the aftermath and disabilities of long-ago wars.

A "Stand Down" event at WorkSource on Wednesday brought together 39 different local and regional organizations to offer veterans information, medical and dental screenings, and support.

Alves estimated about 100 veterans attended the fair, but he wishes it were more.

Many of the volunteers at the fair were veterans themselves, like Nathan Phillips, a Vietnam veteran and treasurer of the local chapter of the Disabled American Veterans Club.

Phillips is disabled by the long-term effects of exposure to Agent Orange, and said before he joined the club he didn't know there was help out there for him.

Now he helps other disabled veterans navigate the paperwork and bureaucracy to get government benefits.

"Our effort is service -- service to that veteran in every way we can," Phillips said. "We help get the ball rolling."

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543;