Antelope Valley Press

Veterans pack room for rushed town hall-style meeting

- Dennis Anderson Easy Company

Veterans, more than 100 of them, filled the community room at Lancaster Community Library last week in a town hall-style meeting convened by the Los Angeles County Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

By many measures, the meeting was a success. Organizers brought representa­tives from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA in Los Angeles, from the VA Vet Center in Palmdale, which schedules mental health counseling for veterans, and many other groups.

Christine Ward, christened as “the veterans’ angel of the Antelope Valley,” was there to speak on behalf of the advocacy she does on behalf of Congressma­n Mike Garcia, himself a Navy fighter pilot who flew combat missions over Iraq. She encourages veterans to never give up on securing benefits earned by way of military service.

Organizers of the meeting, she said, “We’re shocked. They wondered if anyone was going to show up … and you all showed up,” she remarked on Tuesday at the Coffee4Vet­s meeting at Crazy Otto’s Restaurant on Avenue I.

“They were shocked at how many of you turned out … but that is what you did. You all turned out.”

Other veteran services showed up. Ricky Valenzuela, a recent addition to the Los Angeles County Military and Veterans Affairs Department, explained how veterans can set appointmen­ts to come file for benefits they earned. Valenzuela, an Iraq combat veteran, shared that he takes appointmen­ts, “Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.” at the VA Vet Center, 38925 Trade Center Drive. Phone is 661-267-1026.

For the local grassroots nonprofit, Vets4Veter­ans, President Gerry Rice and John Parsamyan, combat veterans both, explained how their “mom-and-pop” all volunteer, unpaid service provider delivers emergency services, shelter, groceries, job training, mental health counseling and college education support to hundreds of veterans across the Antelope Valley for the past dozen or so years.

George Dixon and Victoria Garcia shared about the work Mental Health of America Los Angeles Does in its Palmdale-based Military Resource Center. The work is to get veterans connected to stable housing, and over a decade they have housed a couple thousand veterans and their families.

Jimmy Guevara, Director of the Palmdale-based Veterans Peer Access Network shared what his team of employed veterans does to direct referrals to other sources of aid.

So, by many measures, the meeting succeeded. But nothing is perfect. Veterans, many who have served in combat, or in harsh climes and places, are used to disappoint­ment. For some, the disappoint­ment renews when they do not feel as if they have been heard.

These things are hard to organize. It is hard to get the principals gathered in the same room. By itself, that can be an accomplish­ment. Too often, time is the enemy. And that was the case at last week’s big meeting.

Meeting at the Lancaster Library, the closing bell rang loudly at 8 p.m. For a two-hour meeting with 100 participan­ts, the meeting was just getting going. But there was not time factored in to hear from veterans who have gripes and legitimate grievances with VA or other service providers.

It is tough to be the presenter who opens the meeting to questions and then gets shots across the bow from people who feel unheard, angry, or disappoint­ed about services and benefits they have earned the hard way.

This is the kind of meeting that sets up in each Los Angeles County Supervisor District once a year. Twice a year would be better. And plenty of time needs to be set aside for questions and gripes, with easy follow-up and contact informatio­n shared. Vets do not mind getting the briefing, but they also want to be heard.

It is important to schedule such meetings, and things can always be improved.

The next big veteran informatio­n gathering will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Highlands Church, 39625 20th St. West, Palmdale. Breakfast and lunch served, with dozens of service providers on hand.

Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group. An Army paratroope­r veteran who covered the Iraq War for the Antelope Valley Press, he serves as Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s appointee on the Los Angeles County Veterans Advisory Commission.

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