It’s easy not to notice. Here in our wonderful county in the middle of the state, they’re easy not to see.
Our own neighbors who served our country and returned to Portage County, but for various reasons find themselves in need, in trouble.
For years, our county has allocated a small portion of the annual budget to the Veteran’s Relief Fund which was steadily rationed over the course of the year to those veterans with the greatest need. But as our veterans from earlier conflicts grow older — and the influx of returning vets from the recent conflicts persists — we found the need usually outlasted the allocation.
As one of three Portage County Veteran Services Commissioners, I’ve been honored and humbled to be charged with the responsibility of overseeing the disbursement of the relief fund.
With the need to review each application for assistance to determine need, I must admit I was ignorant of the degree of need within our community. Call it mindlessness, lack of situational awareness, or just plain self absorption, those first few applications were hard to review.
I’d never imagined that among us we had veterans in such distress. I recall an especially heart wrenching request from a pregnant female veteran struggling with an abusive relationship in need of enough money to pay the other half of the mortgage for the month.
Or that for an older disabled Vietnam veteran whose water heater failed three weeks earlier, and went without hot water for most of January because of the lack of means to pay for the repair. And those to pay the power bill after losing a job.
Then there are always our vets who struggle with addiction, relationship management, maintaining employment and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For these worst situations, the fund does something else.
You see, this is where the real magic of the relief fund happens. Yes, it’s great to have a kitty to lighten their financial hardships, but the most amazing effect comes to play by simply getting these veterans across the threshold of Mike Clement’s office (Clements is the Portage Co. Veteran Services Officer).
Here, Mike is able to do what he does best and really dig into the need of the veteran, and connect that vet with the resources the VA has to offer. Remarkably enough, many times the vet may not even be enrolled in the VA Health Care system, or has never submitted for service connected injuries.
Therefore, the very presence of the relief fund performs a service greater than the value of the dollars that comprise it by connecting our vets of greatest need to our County Veteran’s Services Officer.
I believe for most, it’s difficult to comprehend the true benefit the fund has provided our community. In recent years with the additional funds provided by the graciousness of the Guns N’ Hoses event, its benefit has been extended precipitously.
To all those who helped organize, manage and operate Guns N’ Hoses, to all the sponsors, both corporate and individual, and to all those that came out to Cub Mancheski Field to show their support, I must express on behalf of the Portage County Veterans Services Commissioners, John, Ron and myself, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
Your expression of selflessness helps us all remember, that even though our local vets in need are easy not to notice, so much of our community also understands that it’s not too hard to help.
Portage County Veteran Services Commissioner
First Sergeant, Retired, WIARNG, OIF Veteran