Merlene Davis: VA offering benefits event at local community center

Either because they are unaware or because they don't consider themselves worthy, a lot of veterans don't take full advantage of programs available to them through the Veterans Administration.

That is just wrong.

If the men and women who joined our armed forces can serve this country, then surely our country can serve them. And if getting to a VA facility is the obstacle, then the Veterans Administration is making a concerted effort to be more accessible.

"We are taking the entire VA to the community," said Carl White, a veterans benefits adviser. "A lot of them don't realize what we have to offer, and some work during the week and can't get over here."

A Vets First Healthcare & Benefits Bazaar will be held at the Charles Young Community Center, 540 East Third Street from 1-6 p.m. Saturday. Organizers plan for this to become an annual event to reach out to underserved veterans, White said, adding future events may be held at other sites.

Any veteran who has served in any branch of the military, active duty or reserves, is invited. Information about all the programs and health care benefits for them will be available, as well as a chance to socialize with other veterans.

The event is coordinated by the Lexington VA Medical Center Veterans Outreach Committee of which White is a part

Registered nurses and physician assistants will be on hand for health screenings such as blood pressure checks, too. Representatives with the retraining and assistance program, which helps veterans 36 to 60 return to school to learn new skills, will be there. The Department of Labor will help them find employment.

If substance abuse has been a longtime problem, the compensated work therapy program will help the veteran transition to a work environment through on-the-job training.

There are eye care programs, preventive medicine measures, mental health and crisis intervention programs and housing assistance. Veterans need to know about that.

Some older veterans may have a negative view of VA programs because of inefficient services in the past. I've heard of veterans making morning appointments with doctors and not being seen until late afternoon. And there were complaints of not seeing the same doctor with each visit.

"That was the old VA," White said. "Now it is streamlined."

Now, veterans are assigned primary care physicians who follow them throughout their care and prescriptions are filled quickly, White said.

"I wouldn't take anything for the care we provide now," said White, a Vietnam War veteran.

It used to be that veterans were released without knowing about all the services available to them, White said. Recent veterans are made aware before their discharge. But just in case they have forgotten what they were told and just in case the older veterans never knew, the bazaar will be the best chance to get informed.

In 2009, President Obama said this country owes our veterans the best programs and services we can offer. "It's a commitment that begins at enlistment, and it must never end," he said.

Despite falling short of that in the past, White said the VA is taking a giant step to correct that with this event.

Now, all that's needed are the veterans who have earned what the VA has to offer.


Veterans Healthcare & Benefits Bazaar

When: 1 to 6 p.m., May 11.

Where: Charles Young Community Center, 540 East Third Street

Information: Visit, or call Carl White at (859) 233-4511, Ext. 4363.