Veterans flock to Legion post for benefits seminar

Tom and Maryann Cavanaugh smile after receiving some good advice Monday at a veterans’ event. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

Tom and Maryann Cavanaugh smile after receiving some good advice Monday at a veterans’ event. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

DOVER — More than half an hour before the event began, veterans had already begun lining up outside the American Legion building. They had come to receive information on benefits, to learn why their requests were denied, to get help in sorting through the tangled bureaucracy that plagues so many government agencies, in particular the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

Charles Waggoner, a former Marine, was looking for a housing subsidy. He’s set to move out of his Dover residence into a new place he already has lined up, but first, he needs a Department of Housing and Urban Development voucher.

His current home, he said is “falling apart” and “basically needs to be condemned.”

“I have a place to go to but I can’t afford the rent, but with a VA voucher, a VA HUD voucher, I can afford it,” he said Monday morning inside the crowded Walter L. Fox Post No. 2. “The catch is getting hold of somebody that can approve it for me.”

He was there, along with dozens of other veterans, as part of an event designed to assist people just like him: veterans seeking information or assistance.

The gathering was sponsored by Rep. John Carney, D-Del., and featured personnel from various state and national organizations ranging from the Food Bank of Delaware to the VA’s benefits administration.

“This veterans’ office hours is really a simple idea,” Rep. Carney said. “We have veterans across our state who have earned benefits and the respect of a grateful nation through their service in the armed services.”

The Dover gathering was the second of three planned functions. On July 13, officials met veterans in New Castle, and next week, they’ll congregate in Millsboro.

About a dozen tables, staffed by people from various agencies, were set up around the room. Veterans moved among the tables, stopping here and there to talk to representatives of an organization. The VA booth was by far the most popular, with a long line stretching to the back of the room.

Tom Cavanaugh, and his wife, Maryann, were in attendance to seek help in navigating the VA.

An Army veteran, Mr. Cavanaugh suffered injuries during the Vietnam War and was looking to receive benefits. After being improperly billed for a doctor’s visit and having Mr. Cavanaugh’s benefit claims wrongly rejected, the two were fed up with the VA.

“More than a hassle, it’s been a nightmare,” Ms. Cavanaugh said.

The VA has come under scrutiny since a 2014 report revealed many veterans have been unable to receive timely care. Tens of thousands were left waiting for an appointment that never occurred, according to a VA audit.

The Cavanaughs had already been looking for some form of outside assistance when the couple received a postcard advertising the veterans’ events. Mr. Cavanaugh stopped by July 13’s gathering in their hometown of New Castle, and both husband and wife drove down to Dover Monday.

The couple found aid Monday thanks to the American Legion, and a pleased Ms. Cavanaugh described the meeting as helpful.

Waiting in line to meet with VA representatives, Jim Bartelmes was frustrated. The former Air Force member had been unable to collect benefits due to requirements of a means test, which limits benefits to low-income individuals.

He had been unaware of the requirement and was hoping to learn if there were any plans to do away with the test.

“All you hear is ‘Benefits for veterans. Veterans this, veterans that.’ And there are a lot of guys I worked with and when we all retired — we had medical benefits at work — we go to get the VA benefits and they want to know all this personal information, and if you have any money in the bank, you’re put on the end of the list,” the Smyrna resident said.

Clayton resident and former Coast Guard member Sherri Warburton was looking for job information. The captain of Delaware’s animal control efforts, she’ll be losing her job very soon.

As the result of a bill passed earlier this month, the state was set to stop outsourcing animal control over the next two years. In the aftermath of the change, First State Animal Center-SPCA terminated its existing contracts, effective Sept. 15.

Ms. Warburton, who served in the Coast Guard from 1988 to 1992, said she had not utilized her benefits, aside from the GI Bill, which makes it easier for veterans to afford college.
On Monday, she received information from the Delaware Department of Labor.

“It’s nice to see the support that’s here,” she said.

A spokesman for Rep. Carney’s office said the VA and Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs were the most popular organizations last week in New Castle. Some veterans inquired about the commission’s trust fund, which helps former soldiers with emergency expenses, such as housing and health care.

The Commission of Veterans Affairs oversees the veterans’ home in Milford and the state’s two veterans’ cemeteries. It also provides a great deal of information and a number of services to former military members and the public.

Ron Sarg, chairman of the commission, estimates there are at least 200 homeless veterans in the state.

Officials will meet again this Monday from 10-12, at the Millsboro American Legion, located at 31768 Legion Road.

“Our vice president likes to say that the only sacred obligation that the country has is to prepare men and women when we send them off to war and to take care of them when they come home,” Rep. Carney said. “This is about the second part.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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