Local Veterans Summit

veteransThe Expo Hall at the Thurston County Fairgrounds was packed to the gills Wednesday, June 5, when providers from local, state, military and federal agencies and many non-profits gathered for a workshop on veterans’ issues.

Organized by the Board of County Commissioners and staff from the county’s Veterans’ Assistance Fund, more than 100 representatives from various service providers came together to strengthen the network that supports Thurston County’s veterans. The event was co-convened by the Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs and the county’s Veterans’ Assistance Fund.

“It’s wonderful that more than 100 service providers signed up for this conference,” said Sandra Romero, Chair of the Thurston County Board of Commissioners. “It’s imperative that we work together to meet the needs of veterans. It’s not only good fiscal policy, but results in better service to the veterans and to our community.”

Veterans currently account for 16 percent of Thurston County’s population, and that number is expected to rise rapidly in the next several years as the military draws down its forces. By 2016, nearly 50 percent of Thurston County residents will be connected to the military in one way or another.

“JBLM is one of the most desired posts in the military. The quality of the base is nothing without the surrounding community,” said Colonel Thomas Brittain, chief of staff for the 7th Infantry Division.

Connecting Thurston County veterans and military families to the myriad services and programs spread across all levels of government will be a growing challenge as more veterans choose to make the South Sound their permanent home.

“How do we address the complexity of issues—housing, employment, mental health and transportation? Veterans don’t need a ‘silo’ approach from various agencies. They just need help,” said Cheryl Fambles, CEO of Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council.

“In this time of budget cuts, declining revenues and sequestration, the key to success in serving veterans is collaboration,” said Dan Penrose, Program Manager for South Sound Military and Communities Partnership.

The Thurston County Veterans’ Assistance Fund is just one local service provider that not only provides direct assistance to veterans in need, but also helps connect veterans to other local, state or federal programs and benefits. Many clients aren’t aware of the many programs and benefits available to them. In 2011, only 26 percent of Thurston County veterans received a VA benefit they were entitled to.

“With so many different programs and benefits and applications to sort through, it can be overwhelming for our veterans and military families. So it’s up to us as service providers to gather all of the pieces and connect our clients with the benefits they’ve earned with their military service,” said Linda Loyle, manager of the county’s Veterans’ Assistance Fund program. “This summit was a great way to strengthen our network and make those connections that will help our clients down the road.”

For more information about the county’s Veterans’ Assistance Fund, visit HERE.

Information from the Community Program Manager,Veterans' Assistance Fund