Veterans Benefit Forum set for Nov. 4

Veterans can learn how to apply for benefits or health care at a forum this Saturday.

Veterans seeking information on how to apply for benefits or health care can receive free assistance at an upcoming forum this Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Whidbey Veterans Resource Center.

Two informational sessions will be held in the South Whidbey Community Center’s gym at 723 Camano Ave. in Langley. The morning session runs 10:30 a.m. to noon, while the afternoon session is scheduled for 1-3 p.m.

According to data from the census and the U.S. Department for Veterans Affairs, Island County has the highest number of veterans in the state, at around 11,000 to 12,000. Program Coordinator and Benefits Specialist Dana Sawyers said based on this data, less than 40% of veterans who are eligible for benefits or health care have applied.

“That 60% of folks, we’re really trying to get the word out about the different benefit programs and how they can apply and be eligible for them,” she said.

Many veterans are eligible for VA health care programs they may not be aware of, such as audiology services. In addition, recent legislation known as the PACT Act has expanded eligibility for veterans who may have previously been denied benefits. This can even extend to spouses, in the case of one Whidbey woman who is now receiving survivor benefits that she couldn’t get before the PACT Act.

Sawyers stressed that every veteran’s eligibility is different depending on where and when they served, and under what conditions.

“It’s a lot of information, and sometimes it’s hard to know what the eligibilities even mean without talking to someone,” she said.

That’s where the Whidbey Veterans Resource Center comes in. Every year, the South Whidbey nonprofit organization hosts two to three informational sessions for veterans and their families to learn more about completing the application process, which can often be a confusing process to navigate alone.

“By putting it off, they might be missing out on benefits that they’re eligible for,” Sawyers said. “And it’s a lot harder to help when someone’s in a crisis, when someone’s in the hospital or someone’s passed away.”

This weekend’s Veterans Benefits Forum is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Whidbey Westside. Several other service organizations also plan to be present, including Island Senior Resources, the Opportunity Council and Good Cheer Food Bank.

In addition to the informational sessions, the Whidbey Veterans Resource Center offers an array of other services, from a ride program to the Seattle VA Medical Center to various support groups.

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