The Wasco County Veterans’ Service Office is recruiting volunteers to man the phones and greet clients, so the two employees can concentrate on filling out a complexity of paperwork for benefit and compensation claims.
“If you are a veteran, this is a really great place to meet other veterans. If you are not a vet, volunteering is a great way to give back to those who have served,” said Mark Fortin, an Army and Vietnam veteran.
He donates time on Tuesdays and several other mornings a month.
Fortin also chairs the Wasco County Veterans Advisory Committee, which has taken on the mission of filling the volunteer ranks at the 201 Federal Street Office.
“Volunteers make the operation 100 percent more efficient,” he said.
Since 2011, the facility has run at a cost savings tied to having a volunteer force on duty. However, Fortin said many of the original volunteers were seniors who are now seeking to step down due to health problems or other lifestyle changes.
There are 10 active volunteers now and a handful of other individuals who fill an occasional vacancy.
In January, volunteers put in 263 hours. That allowed Russell Jones and Patrick Wilbern, veteran service officers, to file 101 forms, 16 claims, three health care applications, three appeals and get two first-time clients in the system.
The duties of volunteers include answering phones, making appointments and letting veterans know about the documents they will need to gather to speed up processing of claims.
“We’d like as many recruits as we can get,” said Fortin. “You don’t have to volunteer a full day, just pick a couple of hours when it works for you and come help out.” Jean Maxwell is the volunteer coordinator and can be reached for more information at 541-506-2502.
“We have good coffee here,” said Jones, senior service officer and a Navy veteran, by way of invitation.
“Our volunteers are important because they give this place a homey feel instead of the colder environment of a business office,” said Wilbern, an Iraqi war veteran who served in the Oregon National Guard.
Jones said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs makes frequent changes to the rules, so veterans who might have not qualified for a benefit or compensation should check in periodically. He said that is especially true for Vietnam-era veterans because there have been many changes to eligibility in recent years.
Fortin said the committee is planning to host a Resource Fair in June that will provide veterans with a variety of information about available services through several local agencies. That event is still being planned so the date, time and place will be advertised later.
In addition to helping veterans, Fortin said the fair will be a good resource for the homeless and others in need.
He said there is also an open seat on the committee that needs to be filled. The group that makes recommendations about veteran issues to the Wasco County Commission meets at 3 p.m. on the first Friday of each month in the basement of the courthouse, 511 Washington Street.
“You do not have to be a veteran to serve, just someone interested in helping veterans,” he said.
People wanting more information can call Kathy White, executive assistant to the county board, at 541-506-2520.
At its Feb. 1 meeting, the committee fielded a request for assistance from the Bend Heroes Foundation for Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon, a nonprofit organization based in Bend. The nonprofit is seeking caregivers to accompany World War II and Korean WaR veterans, as well as some from the Vietnam war, to Washington, D.C.
Veterans interested in making the trip are also invited to contact the foundation at 541-388-5591. Their costs are completely covered. Volunteer caregivers are required to pay their own way.
Medical staff accompany the veterans, who will visit not only the WWII Memorial, but the U.S. Capitol and the Lincoln, Korea, Vietnam, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Navy, Air Force, and Iwo Jima memorials.
In addition, they will tour the Women in Military Service for America Museum and Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery.
Honor flights are four days in duration and the veterans return to a heroes welcome.
HFEO is one of 130 “hubs” in 44 states participating in the national Honor Flight Network.
For more information, visit www.honorflightofeasternoregon.org.