Evert Seward did not receive a warm welcome from the Vietnam War.
“When they released me from the Oakland military base in California, they told us to go out in groups because the Vietnamese vets were being beaten up outside,” Seward said.
Seward and his friend Duane Kelly, also a Vietnam veteran, attended the Howard County Stand Down event in honor of the veterans. Howard County Stand Down was held at UAW Local 685 Union Hall on November 10. The main purpose of the event was to connect local veterans with a variety of resources they may not have known before.
“Organizations like this are very, very helpful to us as veterans,” Kelly said. “There is no other place in the world that does the kind of things that they do here in Kokomo for us. I am not from here originally, but since I am here I am very happy.
Kelly said that people’s views on veterans have changed dramatically since returning from Vietnam. He said he was grateful for all the community support offered to Howard County veterans, especially at events like Stand Down.
“It has all been very helpful,” Kelly said. “It has contributed to the longevity of my life, and I have met a lot of great people who are there to help me.
Howard County Stand Down had 48 booths offering resources for veterans this year. Many have dedicated themselves to helping veterans find housing. Kiosks run by places like the Kokomo Rescue Mission and Jackson Street Commons detailed some living options, while organizations like the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Homelessness Team and the Kokomo Housing Authority have spoken with veterans of housing programs to which they may be eligible.
“The process is easy. All you have to do is call and request an application, then submit it, and you’ll automatically be put on a waiting list, ”said Heather Begley, Director of Section 8 at the Kokomo Housing Authority.
Begley said there was a waiting list for vouchers based on the project and the public housing program as the Section 8 program is currently closed. The Kokomo Housing Authority works closely with the VA to obtain vouchers from those who are eligible for the services to get them into housing.
“We are the county’s premier provider of subsidized housing,” said Joe Milam, director of family self-sufficiency, homeownership and finance development at the Kokomo Housing Authority. “We just want to help people get housing.
Milam said that in addition to housing, the Kokomo Housing Authority provides services through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to help veterans become less dependent on grants.
“A lot of times people think that people who receive social housing allowances are just profiting from the system, but a lot of them are really trying to work to improve themselves and the lives of their children,” Milam said.
“Fortunately, we have a lot of resources that we can put them into that can help them become self-reliant,” Begley added.
Other services advertised at Howard County Stand Down included education and employment opportunities, financial aid and counseling, veterans benefit organizations, mental and physical health care, legal aid and information on organizations created for the military. Solutions Day Spa even provided free haircuts.
“We are giving free haircuts to all veterans today,” said a stylist from Solutions. “I think we did 30 haircuts today. And we even offered to help them if they wanted to come back to us to have their hair done. We would work with them on a price because we know they have a fixed income.
She said Solutions is doing its best to work with veterans on pricing year round, and any veterans with questions can call the salon to discuss their options.
“It was our second year [at Stand Down], and I feel like this year we’ve done more haircuts than in the past, ”said the stylist. “It was great for us to be able to give back to them.”
Many of the Howard County Stand Down booths were represented by veterans-specific organizations, such as the Disabled American Veterans.
“If I get a call from a veteran who is having issues with benefits or who needs financial assistance, we can help them. That’s what the money is for, ”said Rex Ritchie, commander of the Chapter 28 of the Disabled American Veterans.
Ritchie said the section’s meetings were aimed at educating veterans about their benefits and keeping them up to date with the legislation.
“I encourage the veterans to give us a call,” Ritchie said. “Most veterans don’t know what benefits they are entitled to or what benefits they are entitled to, and therefore they are not taking advantage of the benefits they have earned. This is our main goal, to educate veterans and help them get the benefits they deserve from their service.
One benefit that veterans may not be fully aware of is their right to be buried in national cemeteries. Richard Colosky, deputy director of Marion National Cemetery, said many veterans do not understand the details of their funeral benefits.
“I think funeral benefits are one of the benefits that a lot of veterans don’t know about,” Colosky said. “If you end up qualifying to be buried in a national cemetery, anything inside the cemetery is free. Your burial place, your vault, the opening and closing of the tomb, the tombstone, the perpetual care. Everything inside the cemetery is free if you have the right to be buried in a national cemetery.
Colosky said disinformation sometimes deters veterans from being buried in national cemeteries even if they realize they are eligible.
“They don’t think their spouse can be buried with them. This is not true; their spouses can be buried with them, ”Colosky said.
He also clarified that if a spouse dies first, the spouse is still eligible to be buried in a national cemetery under the veteran’s information. He said when the veteran passes, the plot will already be there, and the veteran can then be buried next to his spouse.
“There is a lot of misinformation and a lot of people who don’t know exactly what it entails,” Colosky said. “I know this is not the best advantage, but this is the last chance for us to honor our veterans by burying them in national cemeteries.
Some organizations like Mental Health America of North Central Indiana and Turning Point Systems of Care aimed to highlight mental and emotional health services for veterans at Howard County Stand Down.
“Anyone with mental health issues, addictions, alcoholism, sometimes homelessness, comes to Turning Point,” said Janita Beall, a volunteer at Turning Point. “Turning Point assesses them and determines where they can go for help.”
Beall said Turning Point is a navigation system that can direct people to the best care. She said they don’t see as many older veterans, but some younger veterans are using the resources provided by Turning Point.
Many other organizations in Howard County Stand Down have described themselves as a type of navigation system to help veterans find certain services. Some groups offered financial counseling, while others focused on health care services specifically for veterans. Some groups are specifically dedicated to veterans and the military to learn more and apply for benefits.
Dean Hockney, the Howard County veterans duty officer, said his office was meant to help veterans navigate the benefits.
“The Howard County Veterans Services Office is here to help veterans file VA claims, we can help them find housing; just about anything a veteran could possibly need help with, which is why our office is there, ”Hockney said. “Our priority is to help them with their VA claims. We are not a VA office, we are a county office, but we help them through the process as the paperwork for the VA can be very complicated.
Hockney said his office helps between 150 and 200 veterans or their families each month. The Howard County Veterans Services Office can also help veterans understand and respond to VA letters and apply for benefits.
“We can help them get the benefits that they’ve earned from their service that sometimes don’t,” Hockney said. “They’ve earned it and we can help them get those benefits. Whether it’s healthcare, disability awards or even education awards.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Howard County Stand Down was that there are many local resources that veterans can use. If one organization is unable to help, it will likely contact another group that can.
“It’s a lot of help for a lot of different people. Financially, medically, ”veteran Jeff Hounchell said of the Stand Down event. “Everyone follows different paths, and it seems like there are a lot of lights at the end of the tunnels as they work their way through their path to reach their goals. There is a lot of good information here.