Veterans helping veterans: A committee of vets reaches out
August 11, 2018
Attorney, VFW Post 3348 member and the Service Officer for Wilcox Post 234 (American Legion), Rob Caldwell volunteers with the Joint Service Committee (JSC) for veterans, many of whom are from South Snohomish County.
"A lot of vets come in here to get help navigating the maze involved with dealing with the VA (Veterans Administration), or to find out what’s wrong with their lives. We try to help,” said Caldwell, who is also a member of the JSC.
The JSC meet almost daily at the MLT American Legion Hall. Caldwell and other volunteers from the Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Vietnam Veterans of America have banded together into a group that works in concert to benefit vets.
Just last year, Caldwell and his fellow volunteers assisted 292 vets. The largest number of our clients are from South Snohomish County (MLT, Lynnwood, Edmonds and Bothell). They also get clients from North King County around Shoreline.
They are getting younger veteran clients from Edmonds Community College, due to our work at the Veterans Resource Center; they also assist vets from all over the country and internationally, its reputation spreading mostly by word of mouth.
The issues these vets face vary widely. They often come in struggling, looking for compensation from the VA to get compensation for their injuries. They can have injuries more profound than can been discerned by seeing a purple heart medal.
90% of the committee’s work is with people suffering the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Per Caldwell "We try to do a few things:
· Give them camaraderie so they know they’re not alone
· Get them into the VA’s PTSD center
· Help them with the claim process, which can be complicated
· If needed, appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims”
The JSC has had much success with the court and the VA, winning hundreds of thousands of dollars and other benefits for veterans; e.g. an appeal they just won for a Vietnam veteran resulted in an award of $3,100 per month for life, $90,000 in retroactive benefits since 2015 and full health and dental care from the VA Medical Center.
"We also have a healing circle that meets; we get a bunch of veterans together to talk about how difficult life can be. They all have a story. That story, built up over time, is part of the problem” Caldwell said.
Caldwell has credentials. "I was a paratrooper in Vietnam. We got our asses kicked a lot. It was all so hard to understand that I had to tell a story, one that didn’t cost me emotionally. But that builds a brick wall,” he said. "We want to help vets get honest with themselves and see how their behavior today is directly linked to being in war. They can lose that B.S. wall and start to understand themselves.”
To honor these vets, the healing circle gives out a PTSD medal. "And that’s because they need to know this is an honorable thing,” said Caldwell. "You have PTSD because you were there. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You earned it.”
Their approach doesn’t only apply to vets who saw combat. Just being near a war zone can leave a mark. "There are a lot of tears. I understand. I was a 20-year-old paratrooper in some nasty country. There were nights when I bargained with myself: ‘Let me see daylight and I will do something to make up for all of this.’” So, Caldwell became a lawyer. "In my first case to go to the VA Appeals court, I won. I found that I liked lifting someone’s life up.”
He and other veterans decided that there is more strength in numbers, so they formed the JSC with about two-dozen veterans volunteering on behalf of their fellow veterans. It is a lot of work — especially the bureaucratic paperwork — he wouldn’t have it any other way. "When you can put money in their pocket it’s a good feeling,” he said. "For me, practicing law stimulates my brain. Helping vets enhances my life” Caldwell said.
The Joint Service Committee can be contacted at 425-776-5490
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