By Rachel Beard
Lansing Township News Staff Reporter
For U.S. veterans, finding information about important issues like veterans care and benefits can be challenging. But for the 666 veterans living in Lansing Township, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, Post 701, provides a vital support system.
“There are so many organizations now that no one person could name them all, but many veterans are not aware that they even exist or that there are benefits available for them,” Vice President of the veterans organization Honor for All Kent Hall said. “There is no veterans phone book or lists available for us to contact a veteran in need. It is usually word of mouth.
“The VFW and the American Legion are two organizations most people have heard about. The VA [Veterans Administration] has so many different departments that the left hand often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”
VFW member Lou Fox says many veterans come to Post 701 to get information.
“Well, it’s a good place to get advice or veterans’ questions [about] benefits available,” Fox said.
At the Michigan-based organization Honor for All, Hall says reaching out to veterans is an important part of his work.
“So [veterans organizations] have events to try to get new members to come in, because there are benefits to veterans that a lot of people don’t even know they have and that’s where we can be really helpful,” Hall said.
But for VFW member Tom Moorhead, visiting Post 701 allows him to spend time with other veterans.
“The people are friendly, and it’s a nice atmosphere,” Moorhead said.
Hall says having a comfortable environment where veterans can interact with others who have been through similar experiences is an important part of keeping veterans healthy.
“A lot of the veterans won’t talk to the other people about the issues they dealt with, but they will open up to another veteran right away,” Hall said.
Veterans Claims Consultant at the VFW Department of Michigan Karen Greene says this kind of attitude towards the VFW is quite common.
“The military offers camaraderie to service members for support,” Greene said. “After discharge, many miss that bond and will become members of the VFW to reestablish that connection with their brothers and sisters.”
Greene works with veterans in Michigan to help them understand what benefits are available to them.
“[The VFW is] a group of nationally accredited service officers and claims consultants who assist veterans in receiving their entitled benefits like compensation, pension and education from the Veterans Administration,” Greene said. “We specialize in knowing the law that governs entitlement to these benefits and assist veterans throughout the process including offering legal representation in the Court of Veterans Appeals both here in the Detroit area and in Washington D.C.”
Michigan State University Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Frank Ochberg says organizations like the VFW can make a big impact in the lives of veterans and their families.
“Veterans and, in some cases, their spouses, meet to talk about post-traumatic stress injury, about marital and family adjustment, about sources of frustration and inspiration,” Ochberg said. “Some are from the Vietnam era, some from more recent conflicts. Not every community has a resource like this.”
VFW employee Cheryl Moorhead finds her work at Post 701 very rewarding.
“They’re all very nice people, and it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something when you go, too,” Cheryl Moorhead said. “I mean, I’m State of Michigan Camp Trotter Chairman, too, and I get to work with the kids then, the veterans’ kids and stuff like that, which is really nice.”
Although there are many federal organizations that are meant to assist veterans, having support at the local level is usually more helpful.
“For people coming back who are having trouble with either internment or what have you, there are agencies with the Veterans Administration that can be very helpful,” Hall said. “The problem is it’s such a – it’s another bureaucracy that’s hard to work through, and that can scare people to maybe a faster track. Because when you’re in that condition, you have to have that patience to work through months trying to get an appointment to see someone.”
Although the VFW is a national organization, it can make a huge impact on the lives of local veterans.
“Post level community service includes assisting veterans to pay utility bills during crisis, rent or mortgage assistance, transportation to and from appointments along with any other need,” Greene said. “Recently the VFW paid to have a phone service installed that would allow a deaf widow of a veteran to communicate with family and friends. They do this by raising money with the sale of buddy poppies and membership dues.”
Cheryl Moorhead helps to organize gatherings for the local VFW members at Post 701.
“We have a lot of events here for all the different holidays, you know, Veterans Day and Memorial Day,” Cheryl Moorhead said. “Some of them are fundraisers, and some, we have ceremonies, like for Veterans Day and for Memorial Day.”
Post 701 is frequented by many veterans in and around the township.
“Well, we have like 600 members, but not all of them come in, but I would think probably at least 150 to 200 all come in,” Cheryl Moorhead said.
For others who work with veterans, raising awareness about things like veterans care and benefits is a bigger part of their work.
“It is important to me that veterans get all the coverage we can get as it is often about awareness,” Hall said.