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Vet program is model, says Runyon

The Dalles City Council learned Monday that local programs to serve veterans have become a “model” for the rest of the state, due largely to a high level of volunteerism.

Rod Runyon, a Wasco County Commissioner, delivered that message to the council after hearing the annual report delivered by Russell Jones, the county’s Veterans’ Service Officer.

“I did not come here to speak, but why not, it’s been Veterans Day for me,” said Runyon.

He joined Tyler Stone, county administrative officer, and Jean Maxwell, volunteer coordinator for the veterans’ office, in Salem on Jan. 13. Their mission was to brief the Veterans Committee of the Association of Oregon Counties about efforts being made on multiple fronts to take care of area military families.

“There’s a lot of outreach going on out there,” Runyon told the council, citing two specific programs:

• Costs are kept down to run the Veterans’ Service Office, 201 Federal Street, by having volunteers man phones, schedule appointments for walk-in clients and file paperwork. Volunteers donated an average of 285 hours per month to the cause, according to Maxwell.

• The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office has trained deputies how to handle situations involving veterans who might be suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). Chief Deputy Lane Magill has compiled a packet of resources available for veterans that is carried in patrol cars for distribution as needed.

“I’m very proud of what we’re doing,” said Runyon.

Maxwell said Wednesday that she also briefed officials from some of the other 36 counties in Oregon about these local services:

• The Veterans’ Ad Hoc Group meets monthly to plan events that raise public awareness about service-related issues and funds for the “Vets Helping Vets” emergency assistance program.

• Home Fires Burning meets monthly to identify and address areas of concern to military families and active-duty troops.

• The Widows of Veterans Support Group, a subcommittee of Home Fires, provides a monthly opportunity for spouses to share grief and support each other. They are also informed about benefits that may be available through the VA system.

• The Chronicle is now printing the Veterans Corner each month, a column that lists events planned by area service organizations to benefit military families.

• Later this month, the veterans’ office will begin publishing a monthly newsletter to distribute information about service-related issues. The publication will feature guest columns by Dr. Pat Stone, a decorated Vietnam veteran and psychologist who has worked closely with veterans, and other professionals.

• Oregon National Guard Staff Sergeant Patrick Wilbern, intake coordinator at the veterans’ office, is establishing a local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He is organizing the program on behalf of those injured in combat with a goal to provide education about service and plan activities to support veterans.

“The word ‘volunteer’ is a pay classification, not a job description,” said Maxwell. “We can do so much because there are so many people willing to help out.”

She said volunteers in the office don’t have to be from a military family or have experience in the armed forces to work there but “it helps” because they arrive with a basic understanding of the complex issues that veterans face.

She can be reached for more information about the volunteer program at 541-506-2502.

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