James Cook was waiting in line for military surplus clothing when a United States senator walked up and introduced herself.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., asked Cook how the veterans’ system was treating him. Cook told Murray about his problems getting timely shipments of prescription medications.
“It’s supposed to take three to five days,” Cook told Murray. “It can be seven to 10 days.”
From his perspective, Cook said, part of the problem is that the distribution center is east of the Mississippi River.
Murray looked to Joanne Krumberger, director of the VA Portland Health Care System, who was part of the group. Krumberger nodded her head in confirmation.
As the senator’s group moved forward, a staff member from the Portland VA center talked with the Vancouver veteran.
“They’re going to contact me and work with me,” Cook said later.
As her visit wrapped up, Murray told reporters that the veterans’ turnout was impressive. However, “The overwhelming response shows us a real need,” she said.
She was hearing a lot about veterans’ housing needs during her visit, said Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Some participating vets found help in accessing veterans’ benefits or checking out college options; several had decayed teeth filled or pulled.
Those were a few of the things that brought people to Clark County’s stand-down for veterans Wednesday. The annual event at the Armed Forces Reserve Center is an opportunity for veterans to get some quick-turnaround services, including surplus gear such as clothing, sleeping bags, boots and packs.
Lonnie Epps left with a well-loaded pack.
“I got a lot of winter gear,” said Epps, who was in the Army from 1977 to 1982.
Epps said he spends a lot of time camping out in the west end of the Columbia River Gorge. When it gets cold, “This makes a big difference,” he said, hefting his new gear.
Epps said he is part of a small backwoods community. Barring an occasional sweep by authorities, “Nobody bothers you.” He would like something permanent, however.
“I’m trying to get housing in Vancouver. I know they’re working on it,” said Epps, referring to a facility for homeless veterans under construction on Vancouver’s VA campus.
Inside the assembly hall, dozens of organizations had representatives who could provide resources and programs offering long-term payoffs. Veterans Affairs staffers were at several tables.
“What a wonderful event,” said Krumberger, director of the regional VA system. “I can’t tell you what this means to veterans, as well as their families.”
When a veteran walks in with a question for a VA staffer, Krumberger said, “The very next day, we make contact.”
The annual stand-down is organized by the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center, 1305 Columbia St. The nonprofit center is affiliated with the county’s Veterans Assistance Fund, which is part of Clark County Community Services.