Vet Connect makes a connection
By Martina Lewis
Vet Connect makes a connection
By Martina Lewis
"45, 46, 47," shouts navy veteran Flora Haluzak from the table she has manned for years, as she summons the next group of veterans to enter a room full of an amazing array of information. This is Vet Connect, started in 2008 by five veterans and a veteran advocate, whose mission was to provide one-stop shopping where veterans can talk to volunteers, almost all veterans themselves, in areas such as veterans benefits, VA claims assistance, VA health care, housing, furniture, clothing, veterans and their families counseling, and many others. The number of service organizations on hand to help exceeds 30. "Vets serving Vets" is the motto of Vet Connect, and they do indeed serve. No veterans are turned away, and no veteran pays for anything.
Vet Connect is a non-political, not-for-profit organization, and not for profit is meant literally. Everyone connected with it is a volunteer. No one is paid a penny, including the board of directors, who constantly look for ways to raise money (donations are tax deductible) to help as many veterans and their families as possible. "It has been my greatest pleasure to be able to help veterans to access benefits due them after military service," says Richard Jones, one of the founders and current president of Sonoma County Vet Connect, Inc.
"Today, I'd like a haircut," says one vet as he approaches Flora's table. Yes, vets, both men and women, can get a haircut any Tuesday morning. They can also get a massage. One of the tables displays bags containing lunches. The front tables are lined with clothing, next to racks of hanging clothes.
"Can I buy one of those little duckies?" asks someone approaching the front desk. "Sorry," Flora says, "they aren't for sale." She's right. The very popular little duckies can't be bought on Tuesday mornings. Why? Because the founders of Vet Connect are adamant about everything being free. No money is to be exchanged. For anything. There are ducks for every occasion, including military ducks. The good news is that these little duckies can be purchased at other times. The cost? A dollar each – a buck a duck. They're sold in the Vet Connect booth at the farmers market by the Veterans Building on the first and third Saturday of every month. They will also be sold in the Vet Connect booth when the 4th Street farmers market starts its 16-week Wednesday run on May 4.
So what other services are offered to vets? Pete Rizzo volunteers his expertise in counseling vets in the area of finance. "Some are puzzled why their pensions or government allowances seem to always run out long before the next check comes in. So I am ready to help them with budgeting and financial planning … with follow-ups as needed," he added.
One of the greatest needs among veterans is housing. "I volunteer at Vet Connect to help all veterans with permanent housing issues," says Lee Hoskins, a real estate agent, "whether they can afford to purchase a home locally or in other areas in the North Bay." Lee added, "I find it very rewarding to share this information with others." If buying a house is beyond a veteran's means, the volunteers with VA, North Bay Veterans Resource Center, or HUD-VASH can help find shelter for the veterans and their families.
A DAV (Disabled American Veterans) volunteer can tell veterans if they are eligible for disability. Looking for a job? Go to the EDD (Employment Development Department) table for help.
One very helpful table is manned by someone to help veterans with tax reports. How timely, with the filing deadline approaching.
One of the valuable areas of help is for veterans who have lost or misplaced their DD214. Paperwork for replacing the DD214 can be started at the North Bay Veterans Resource Center (VRC) table, and directions for completing the process will be given. Obtaining a VA card involves a photograph, and VRC can direct inquirers to the necessary location to obtain a new one.
And how about a day of sailing in the San Francisco Bay? The volunteers from BAADS (Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors) can set veterans up for a day to remember.
If you want to see the entire list of services offered, go to www.Vet-Connect.org/home.html. You'll be amazed.
Richard Jones summarized the feelings of probably all the volunteers when he said, "As part of this organization, I have been given the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many, including my own life."
In Santa Rosa, Vet Connect is available every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building. The core members of the group also offer Vet Connect in Guerneville, Sonoma, and Petaluma. Visit the Vet Connect website at http://vet-connect.us/ for locations and times. On the website you can also learn more about how Vet Connect connects with vets!
Martina Lewis is a volunteer with Vet Connect. She lives in Santa Rosa.
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