Offering a helping hand to area veterans

The Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs hosted a lunch and learn on Wednesday at the American Legion Post 1 to brief veterans on department’s areas of responsibilities and new initiatives.

“For us, every day is Veterans Day and every day is Memorial Day,”said Joey Strickland, LDVA secretary.

Southwest Louisiana will veterans will soon have access to additional service officers to help navigate the complex system of veterans benefits, said Vanessa Melancon, deputy assistant secretary of benefits. Beauregard parish will have a full-time benefits coordinator available beginning July 1 and Calcasieu parish will two full-time coordinators giving veterans greater access to the department’s free experts.

“Unfortunately there are some people out there that are charging to do claims. That’s actually against federal law, okay. It’s not supposed to cost you anything to file your claim,” Melancon said.

In addition to benefit assistance, the department’s Military Relief Family Fund exists to help veterans with unexpected crisis expenses. The fund can provide up to $10,000 to support military family’s in times of need, Strickland said. “We have saved more cars and trucks for veterans who got behind because they were deployed and gave nearly 350,000 to veterans who went under in the floods two years ago.”

The LDVA exists to meet the needs of the 278,000 Louisiana veterans, including incarcerated service men and women. “One of the primary philosophies is, whether you’re a Marine, Army or other service, we leave no one behind on the battlefield. We’re not going to leave any veterans just because they’re incarcerated in prison,” Strickland said.

The department has worked with the Legislature to gain the rights to open claims for incarcerated veterans. Six to eight months before an incarcerated veteran’s sentence is over the department reopens their benefit claim to ensure they have funds available when they return home. “That cuts down on the rate of recidivism,” he said.

Many of the incarcerated veterans are Vietnam veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he said. In light of such knowledge the department is actively working to shed more light on the mental health crisis of its men and women.

The state’s five veterans homes recently underwent $8 million in renovations, a service to veterans and qualifying families, Strickland said. “The homes are not just for elderly veterans. The home is for everybody,” he said, including the combat wounded veterans in need of physical therapy and Gold Star family members.

Louisiana is joining the ranks of only one other state in the nation, Washington, by creating veterans centers for its 8,000-10,000 students attending college. In partnership with AmericCorp, in the fall all 30 colleges and universities in the state will house a center to meet the unique needs of veteran students.

“I’ve been concerned with the number of veterans graduating from college. I want them to stick it out,” Strickland said. “A lot of veterans, after four-year tour, you’ve been out of high school for a long time. It’s hard to get back into that groove.”


For more information on the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs resources visit, www.vetaffairs.la.gov.

””Lunch and LearnSpecial to the American Press