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Navigating the VA system can be tough, but local efforts can go a long way

Evan Chaffee. File photo
Evan Chaffee. File photo

By Evan Chaffee, San Juan Capistrano Planning Commissioner

Many Americans are still reeling from the negligence revealed in the Veterans Health Administration scandal, from which an internal audit of the VA released in June found that more than 120,000 veterans were left waiting or never got care.

In this same audit, it was found that schedulers established unofficial lists or made it appear that waiting times for care were more favorable. This investigation was sparked after 35 veterans died while waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.

Shortly after the release of the audit, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a criminal investigation of the VA. While the federal government appears to have performed its duties to veterans poorly or not at all, that is not the case with local organizations dedicated to veterans issues.

With the third largest veteran population in the state of California, Orange County has an important responsibility to serve, support and respect the men and women who have fought to protect our freedoms.

It has been reassuring to see our local municipalities rise in support of our servicemen and women in the form of city-sponsored military units. For instance, San Juan Capistrano provides support for the 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, San Clemente supports the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and Dana Point has adopted the 5th Marine Regiment.

With Camp Pendleton sitting at our southern border, it is reassuring to know that these support groups will be able provide aid, comfort and assistance to our Marines, Sailors and their families.

In 1978, the Orange County Board of Supervisors formed the OC Veterans Advisory Council to advise the board on issues pertaining to veterans and their dependents. At one recent meeting, the council provided a presentation from the city of Anaheim introducing their veterans’ resource center.

Anaheim city staff displayed a page devoted to veterans services now found on their city website. This page includes information regarding housing, benefits, compensation, job fairs, a job directory and a resource directory.

In some cities a dedicated city staffed resource center is not economically viable. Understanding this, the Veterans Advisory Council has been urging cities to provide a centralized veterans support section on city websites that, at minimum, directs local veterans to helpful resources provided by the county, state and federal governments.

While Anaheim utilizes its staff to manage this network, the city of Dana Point has established an alternative method of serving its veteran community. Currently, Dana Point has provided office space at city hall for its local, highly active Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9934 to utilize their volunteer services to provide aid to our vets.

Many of these volunteers have already started or completed the long and arduous process to obtain the benefits the VA owes them. In many cases these men and women have had to wait years to finally get their earned benefits.

With that in mind, Dana Point VFW post members volunteer to help other veterans with this process. They have learned, out of necessity, the ins and outs of this application process and have become a knowledgeable resource for other veterans. These men and women provide a true public service without any real recognition.

Our Orange County cities have an opportunity to better serve our veterans by establishing a resource page on each city’s website, and additionally, by partnering with local veterans’ organizations to create advisory committees and regular volunteer-manned offices at every city hall. Local cost would be minimal, but the impact for our veterans community would be tremendous.

Evan Chaffee is a lifelong resident of San Juan Capistrano and is currently serving his first term on the city’s Planning Commission. He serves as campaign manager for Orange County Supervisor candidate Lisa Bartlett.

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