Dana Sawyers, coordinator for Island County Veterans Services, goes through a series of survey questions with veteran Wayne Martin. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

County counting on survey to help more veterans

Knowing the numbers helps fill needs

Getting a better handle on the number of local veterans and their needs is the goal of a sweeping survey underway by Island County Veterans Services.

“We have the highest number of veterans per capita in the state, but we really don’t know the exact number of people who have served in the military,” said Dana Sawyers, coordinator of Veterans Services.

Estimates range from 14,000 to 17,000.

“The VA only knows about the veterans who are enrolled in those services,” Sawyers explained.

SAWYERS IS going to vets, and vets are coming to her. Recently, she reached out during the Island County Point in Time homeless survey and attended other events.

An online survey form may also be up and running soon.

One result of the survey could be expanded van service to Seattle’s VA Puget Sound Health Care System, as many vets living in rural areas can’t get there. Currently, Disabled American Veterans provides a van from Oak Harbor through Anacortes to Seattle’s VA services.

“Transportation is what we hope we’re able to do and we need numbers to apply for grants,” Sawyers said. “An outpatient clinic for veterans was created in Mount Vernon because they demonstrated the need.”

CLAY CANFIELD, president of Whidbey Veterans Resource Center, agrees veterans need more help getting around.

“More transportation is always needed,” he said. “It seems like that is the subject that comes up most often and we are almost always at a loss as to how to improve the situation.”

Getting information out and making connections are other goals of the survey.

“Recognizing how many veterans we have here is important, not just for compensation and health benefits, but to help them in other ways,” Sawyers said.

“We’ve met a lot of older vets who are living alone, they’re isolated, they may not realize some of the benefits they may be eligible for because it’s all so process intensive.”

One example is emergency assistance for vets needing help paying housing and utility bills. Vouchers for food, fuel, work clothing and school supplies for dependent children are also available.

AND WHILE there’s numerous local resources to help veterans navigate the morass of military administration, many don’t take advantage of the help.

“Who the veterans are, how they are doing and details in relation to age, gender and surviving spouses and learning what they may be eligible for or need is one purpose of the survey,” Sawyers said.

Assistance for veterans is not one-size-fits-all.

“We’ve got a lot of older veterans, and we do have lots of veterans here who are working age and they’re going to work every day and raising kids.”

SAWYERS SERVED in the National Guard, a group she says is often overlooked as veterans.

“I’m a veteran and I live on Whidbey Island, but sometimes the National Guard gets left out.”

Health needs vary greatly among the demographics of former soldiers.

World War II veterans may need assistance getting hearing aids while others need advice sorting through the Veterans Choice Program, a plan allowing vets to see community doctors outside the VA system.

For information on the Island County Veterans Services survey, call 360-632-7328 or email IslandCountyVeterans@co.island.wa.us

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