Cen­ter in Char­lotte Hall helps vet­er­ans and oth­ers with dis­abil­i­ties

Cen­ter in Char­lotte Hall helps vet­er­ans and oth­ers with dis­abil­i­ties

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JESSE YEATMAN jyeat­man@somd­news.com

Liv­ing on his own was get­ting harder for veteran Nick Mun­son. As bills piled up, he be­came less com­fort­able talk­ing to oth­ers, and ask­ing for help wasn’t in his na­ture.

In­de­pen­dence, he said, had be­come “a big chal­lenge.”

But then he con­nected with the South­ern Mary­land Cen­ter for In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing, an agency based in Me­chan­icsville that as­sists peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert coun­ties, whether they are vet­er­ans or not.

“This group ac­tu­ally does things to help vet­er­ans,” un­like other veteran sup­port group he’s worked with, Mun­son said.

The agency helps peo­ple “not to be­come home­less,” by shar­ing re­sources and in­for­ma­tion be­fore a veteran or other per­son gets to the point of los­ing their home, Mun­son said.

He was close to that point two years ago, he said, but was able to avoid bank­ruptcy and stay in his Me­chan­icsville home thanks to the agency’s as­sis­tance.

“There’s al­ways fol­low-up” and a fi­nan­cial plan to stay in­de­pen­dent, he said.

The agency in Me­chan­icsville is one of seven es­tab­lished in Mary­land to help peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties lead self-di­rected, in­de­pen­dent lives. The non­profit fa­cil­ity op­er­ates with state and fed­eral funds, and all ser­vices are pro­vided free.

“Each in­di­vid­ual sets their own goals. They de­cide what they want to do and then we help them do that,” San­dra Dent, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the agency, said.

The cen­ter fo­cuses on five core ser­vices: in­di­vid­ual and sys­tem ad­vo­cacy; in­for­ma­tion and re­fer­ral; peer sup­port; in­de­pen­dent liv­ing skills train­ing; and tran­si­tion­ing youth.

Within those core ar­eas, some of the specifics of­fered in­clude help for vet­er­ans and peo­ple who are dis­abled to ap­ply for ben­e­fits, trans­porta­tion for those in need, as­sis­tive tech­nol­ogy, classes on how to cook and help with job place­ment, Lidiya Be­ly­ovska, the of­fice fis­cal man­ager, said. The agency even main­tains a “glam­our closet” for peo­ple to get free, used busi­ness at­tire for in­ter­views or jobs. Staff mem­bers es­pe­cially help with ap­ply­ing for Sup­ple­men­tal Se­cu­rity In­come, or SSI, ben­e­fits and ben­e­fits for vet­er­ans through the U.S. De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

A dis­abled veteran sup­port net­work based at the Me­chan­icsville of­fice of­fers monthly meet­ings that are in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to those in need, Mun­son said. By meet­ing oth­ers, he was able to see that he is not alone in some of the prob­lems he’s en­coun­tered.

Vet­er­ans of­ten come in sullen, quiet or even an­gry, he said. But af­ter a few vis­its, they can open up and begin en­joy­ing the com­pany at the meet­ings, which of­ten fea­ture a guest speaker to talk about a spe­cific topic of in­ter­est.

There is help with trans­porta­tion, in­clud­ing get­ting to a vet­er­ans hos­pi­tal in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Through grants, the agency can pro­vide fi­nan­cial help with in­stalling wheelchair ramps or other home ren­o­va­tions. And if the agency can­not pro­vide an an­swer or help to a spe­cific is­sue, work­ers will di­rect the veteran to some­one who can help, he said.

“South­ern Mary­land Cen­ter for In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing func­tions as a clear­ing­house for vet­er­ans” as­sis­tance, he said.

Mun­son praised Jerry Tay­lor, who has a part-time job with the agency as­sist­ing vet­er­ans and also puts in many hours of vol­un­teer time.

Tay­lor of Waldorf said that there are more than a dozen vet­er­ans who reg­u­larly at­tend the meet­ings each month. Oth­ers will come to a few meet­ings with spe­cific needs, and then move on, he said.

When Tay­lor started with the agency, he said he was al­ready “fully vet­ted” by the VA for ben­e­fits he earned by serv­ing in Viet­nam and in the Gulf War, where he was in­jured. But, he quickly found out that many other vet­er­ans do not re­ceive the full amount of ben­e­fits they are en­ti­tle to re­ceive.

“I help oth­ers get what they have earned,” he said.

He said that South­ern Mary­land Cen­ter for In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing screens other or­ga­ni­za­tions be­fore they rec­om­mend them. Vet­er­ans, Tay­lor said, do not want the runaround when they need as­sis­tance.

Tony New­man, also an Army veteran, met a veteran that needed as­sis­tance at his church, and of­fered to drive him to the meet­ings.

New­man moved to Hol­ly­wood in 2007 while on ac­tive duty, and re­tired a few years later. He said he likes that he can come into the cen­ter to use re­sources, in­clud­ing copiers and com­put­ers, and get or give ad­vice about fill­ing out VA forms. He is now train­ing to be­come a vet­er­ans ser­vice of­fi­cer through a men­tor­ing pro­gram.

New­man is the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the veteran sup­port group, which meets on the sec­ond Fri­day of each month from 5 to 7 p.m. at the agency in Me­chan­icsville.

Mau­rice Scott of In­dian Head said he de­vel­oped leukemia af­ter ex­po­sure to the chem­i­cal Agent Or­ange while serv­ing in the Army in Viet­nam. He re­al­ized he needed some as­sis­tance with fill­ing out his pa­per­work for VA ben­e­fits, and a friend in­tro­duced him to the agency through its vet­er­ans meet­ings.

“I was look­ing for some­thing like that,” Scott said.

Peo­ple at the meet­ing were friendly and treated him well, he said, so he’s con­tin­ued com­ing for sev­eral years.

He also was the re­cip­i­ent of a cost-shar­ing grant that al­lowed his house to be ren­o­vated so it would bet­ter suit his abil­i­ties.

As head of the of­fice in Me­chan­icsville, Dent said, the group is build­ing strong re­la­tion­ships with lo­cal groups, in­clud­ing Li­ons and Ki­wa­nis clubs as well as ACTS, which lends out med­i­cal equip­ment like walk­ers and wheelchairs.

South­ern Mary­land Cen­ter for In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing is also start­ing to host fundrais­ers to sup­ple­ment its ser­vices. A wine-tast­ing event was held Fri­day, Sept. 9, at the Port of Leonard­town Win­ery. For more in­for­ma­tion, call 301-884-4498 or visit www.sm­cil.org.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JESSE YEATMAN

Mau­rice Scott of In­dian Head said that he ap­pre­ci­ates the sup­port given to vet­er­ans, in­clud­ing him­self, by the South­ern Mary­land Cen­ter for In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing. Tony New­man of Hol­ly­wood, in back, leads a dis­abled vet­er­ans sup­port group that meets on the sec­ond Fri­day of each month at the Char­lotte Hall fa­cil­ity.

Jerry Tay­lor of Waldorf talks about the help some vet­er­ans need to ap­ply for and re­ceive their earned ben­e­fits. He helps vet­er­ans through the South­ern Mary­land Cen­ter for In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing, based in Char­lotte Hall.

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