FREELAND — Paul D’Avazo is a World War II veteran who never realized he was entitled to receive benefits following his four years of service in the Navy. He and his wife, Margaret, didn’t think he qualified.
But after spending some time talking with a representative from the Seattle VA Medical Center during a Veterans Stand Down event in Freeland Saturday, D’Avazo discovered he was eligible after all.
The D’Avazos are a perfect example of what the Veterans Resource Center in Freeland is all about, and what organizers of the first-time event hoped to accomplish — connecting veterans of all ages with a variety of resources. For Paul and Margaret, finding help locally made a huge difference.
“I came to see what benefits I was entitled to,” Paul D’Avazo said. “It’s good to have (the VRC) here, because any questions I have, I don’t have to go down to Seattle.”
“They sent us down to Seattle a few years ago, but we couldn’t locate the hospital, so he said ‘That’s it, we’re done,’” Margaret said. “He was frustrated.”
By mid-afternoon Saturday, representatives from the VA hospital in Seattle had processed 30 new applications, according to Mike Caseman, who was pleased with the turnout.
“I wish we had more events like this,” he said. “When we have organizations like this, we can get the applications filled out and get people in the system. There are a lot of veterans who are not aware of what they’re eligible for.”
In addition to helping veterans with enrollment and benefit questions, there was information on employment, housing, financial planning, mental health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There were health screenings, demonstrations and giveaways, plus a free pet wash and free haircuts. Several different organizations were represented.
“This is a great opportunity to bring information to the community,” said Eric Brooks, the new Island County Emergency Management Coordinator. “It lets them know what services are there for them. And, it’s a chance to get all the people from different agencies together to talk to one another. It’s an opportunity to work as a team.”
“There is a ton of need,” said Terry Clark, Island County Medical Reserve Corps coordinator. “The need for community support for our returning veterans is not immediately apparent. But issues that have been bottled up become apparent over time, and organizations like the VRC and events like this provide a safe haven.”
It seemed everyone attending, veterans, volunteers and organizers alike, were enjoying themselves.
“This had great vibes from the minute it started,” said Pauline Langner, who gave more than two dozen free haircuts. “To get to do this, I couldn’t hardly wait. It’s been a lot of fun.”
“I’ve not heard anyone who did not think this was cooler than cool,” said first-time volunteer Kat Ersch. Her late husband, William Davison, was in the Navy for 22 years. “During my husband’s illness I couldn’t find resources. This wasn’t here yet.”
Ersch was manning the clothing booth, passing out everything from undergarments and socks to shirts, pants, jackets and sleeping bags. The new items came from a veterans center in Everett.
“The turnout has been awesome. I’ve given away more than I expected,” she said.
“It’s been a friendly and interesting day,” said VRC co-founder Perry McClellan. “I think especially at the time we’re in; so many things make people feel helpless. To be able to get out there and help is enriching.”