By Annette Hinkle
It used to be that when soldiers came home from the war, they knew what programs were out there for them. That was particularly true in the decades after W.W.II, when money for college, disability benefits and medical care through Veterans Administration (VA) facilities were widely available.
While those programs still exist, the truth is, there are many more benefits available today than veterans may realize. And things change quickly — from revised eligibility guidelines to innovative services, staying abreast of what’s current can be time consuming and overwhelming.
That’s why Marty Knab, Commander of the Chelberg and Battle Post 388, American Legion in Sag Harbor, has arranged a forum at the legion for next Wednesday. From healthcare to pension plans and programs for seniors, representatives from various organizations will be on hand to offer information at the federal, state, county and town level that could make a difference in the life of a veteran.
Knab, who served for 20 years in the Coast Guard, understands the need. He once had his own preconceived notion of what veterans benefits meant.
“They’ve had VA healthcare for a long time, but when I was in active duty, I thought for most eligibility you had to have been shot in the war, or lost a leg or arm — which was not the case.”
Knab hopes that all veterans and their families will stop by the legion next Wednesday to see what’s there for them.
“This is not just for legion veterans,” he says. “This is for regular guys who were in the service. Now they’re out and working, with no time to be part of the organization. They don’t realize what the government offers. You have to be in the know.”
Among those coming to Sag Harbor next Wednesday will be JoAnne Anderson, RN, MSN, FNP, the East End Health Coordinator for the Northport VA Medical Center which operates three community based outpatient clinics across Suffolk County, including one at the Westhampton Air Base. Anderson will bring information on veterans healthcare options to the legion, and she notes that on May 2, the Westhampton clinic will relocate to the County Center in Riverhead where it will offer expanded hours and a location easily accessible by public transportation.
“We have enjoyed the liaison on the military base, it’s been a wonderful experience, but we were only able to provide care there three days a week,” she explains, noting that the Riverhead clinic will eventually be open five or six days a week with some evening hours.
Also attending Wednesday’s forum will be Jonathan Spier from the Long Island State Veterans Home who will share information about his facility, which cares for veterans nearing the end of their lives.
“We’re different than the VA which is a federal hospital system,” explains Spier. “ We are a nursing home owned and operated by the state in partnership with the state.”
Spier notes his facility is unique among veterans nursing homes in that it is associated with Stony Brook University medical system.
“We’re a teaching nursing home. We have healthcare students and future health care leaders in our building. We really are full service. Our residents are getting the latest in advancements and cutting edge technology,” says Spier who notes that the vast majority of the facility’s 350 beds are occupied by the World War II generation.
“These guys left service at 19 or 20 and didn’t think about nursing homes or benefits down the road. Our facility is a special place for a special population,” adds Spier who hopes to reach those making the healthcare decisions in the family — often the adult sons and daughters of veterans.
“There are a lot of programs out there veterans don’t know about,” agrees Bob Hopkins, Suffolk County Veterans Service officer who will bring information on a federal and state programs to the legion including death or burial benefits and low income pensions for surviving spouses.
Hopkins notes that among recent changes in programs for younger vets is the education benefit, which has been expanded. He explains that veterans now have 15 years to use the program after leaving the service, instead of four years.
“It covers on the job training, pilot training, books and housing. It’s a great program,” says Hopkins. “It’s nice to see Marty having this. It’s good to get the word out.”
The workshop for veterans, surviving spouses and grown children of aging veterans will be held on Wednesday, April 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Chelberg and Battle Post 388, American Legion on Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information call 725-9759.