Evan Thompson / The Record — Kat Ersch holds up a photobook that includes pictures of her late husband, Bill Davison, a 22-year Navy veteran.

Veterans survey to gauge service needs, population

Freeland resident Kat Ersch knows what’s done is done.

Her late husband, 22-year Navy veteran Bill Davison, did not receive the level of health care he was entitled to during his final days dealing with Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. The shortcomings were many, but much of it had to do with a lack of access to veterans services on Whidbey Island in the mid-2000s.

“I kept trying to reach out for help and couldn’t find anybody,” Ersch said. “He missed out on the services he was entitled to.”

She can’t change what happened to her husband, who died in August 2009, but she wants to help ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. Ersch is among those encouraging veterans and spouses to participate in an online survey about the status and needs of Island County veterans.

Ersch hopes the survey will prove how valuable a standalone veterans resource center would be to Island County’s veterans.

“That’s my hope and dream to get that here,” Ersch said.

Island County Veterans Services is administering the census survey named “Island County Veterans Count,” which is meant to identify the demographic of veterans on the island, establish a need for increasing Veteran’s Administration services and establish better connections to services currently available to veterans.

Visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/islandcountyveteranscount to participate.

Island County Veterans Services continues to do what it can in terms of connecting veterans with the help they need and providing transportation, but the survey may lead to a greater scope of services, Ersch and Island County Veterans Services Coordinator Dana Sawyers said.

The survey includes questions ranging from military occupation and yearly income to whether or not veterans use Veteran’s Administration health care benefits. The responses from the survey will not be shared publicly and not every question requires answering.

The survey, open to both veterans and spouses, should also help definitively prove how many veterans live in the county, as well as identify any shortcomings in services.

Prior censuses have shown Island County to have the highest number of veterans per capita in the state, somewhere between 14,000 and 17,000. Island County has about 71,000 total residents, meaning veterans make up about 23 percent of the community.

There is not a crop of health care options available to veterans on the island, Sawyers said. Because there is a shortage of medical providers that accept Veteran’s Administration programs such as the Choice Program, which allows veterans to receive health care within their community, veterans must travel to Seattle and other areas where help is available.

Making matters worse, Sawyers said there are a “surprisingly” high number of veterans who have never connected with the services they’re entitled to due to a lack of awareness. The survey, she hopes, will shed more light on health care benefits veterans have earned and provide more visibility for what Island County Veterans Services is doing in the community.

Fortunately, Sawyers said the organization provided this type of information to veterans in July at the Whidbey Island Fair when as many 150 of them stopped by the Island County Veterans Service booth.

Dennis Phillips of Richard “Buck” Francisco Marine Corps League Detachment 1451 said the former Marines have also been spreading the word about health care services when they participate in events and flag raising ceremonies in the community.

“We just to try to get them hooked up with somebody who can answer their questions and get them pointed in the right direction,” Phillips said.

Phillips added the survey will go a long way toward identifying veterans who need health care services and establish the need for better services on the island.

Island County Veterans Services is also in need of more volunteers who can become care coordinators, a vital part of the operation. Care coordinators become versed in complex paperwork to help ensure veterans’ claims are correctly filled out and properly submitted. Sawyers said care coordinators can vastly improve a veterans’ quality of life by sifting through the minute details of what they need and connect them with the services they deserve.

Contact Sawyers at 360-632-7328 or email IslandCountyVeterans@co.island.wa.us. for details.

Ample information about Veteran’s Administration benefits will also be available for veterans at the Whidbey Island Annual Veterans Picnic from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20 at 4632 Tompkins Road in Langley. The event is sponsored by the Whidbey Veterans Resource Center.