It’s estimated that only half of eligible combat vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have enrolled with the Veterans Administration to access health care benefits. Hundreds of veterans and active duty service members turned out Wednesday for a drop-in at the Dorn VA hospital in Columbia, created to inform people from around the state about the many services offered under the Veterans Administration.
Staff Sgt. Yhonni Rodriquez was among the participants. Originally from the Dominican Republic, he says he has enjoyed his seven years in the Army, but says he’s ready to get out in a few months. Rodriquez says his first tour in Iraq in 2003 was better than 2005, when his experiences were harder and he felt that he was in more danger. He says his first job was the Army. “It’s been really great. I can’t complain. While in the Army, I went to school for a couple of years. I got my degree, which is really important to me.”
Sam Gambell served in the Army in the 1970s, then went to Iraq as a reservist between 2003 and 2005. He spent months helping to ship off Saddam Hussein’s gold when it was captured. Gambell was cooking hamburgers for the event Wednesday, and says he regularly volunteers at the hospital. “Basically we’re all sisters and brothers, you know. We’ve all been there. We may not have been there at the same time, but we’ve been there. And we know what everybody went through, how they felt. Anytime we can help each other, I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Candance Truman is a veteran and works with VA counselors to help other vets, talking about her emotional issues. “I was in peace-keeping missions in Bosnia. Some of the things I saw started to trigger my anxiety attacks. Then I had more traumas in my life and that developed things into bi-polar. I went through a deep depression.”
Truman encourages vets having problems or suffering from stress to talk to the VA, and even to consider a therapy dog. She was there Wednesday with her trained therapy dog, a mixed-breed named Ozzie.
Priscilla Creamer with the VA hospital says the Veterans Administration can hook vets up with everything from counseling, to vocational rehabilitation, to getting a military cemetery plot. “One of the services is My Healthy Vet, a computer program where a veteran can go online and access his health care. Also we have a safe-driving initiative. We’re finding that returning veterans have a higher percentage of accidents, so we’re wanting to educate, and to use safe-driving techniques.”