From coffee and doughnuts and free haircuts, conversations to counseling and technical assistance — there are many ways in which veterans and others are reaching out to local veterans to show their appreciation.
Katee Hoffman at the Grant County Veterans Service Office offers an array of assistance to local vets as the county’s veterans service officer.
She’s also involved in other ongoing and new ways to support veterans.
A free coffee time for vets from 9-11 a.m. on Wednesdays at the John Day Elks Lodge, at 140 NE Dayton St., has been available for the past five years.
“It’s just about hanging out and camaraderie with people who ‘get’ you,” she said.
Bob Van Voorhis, a veteran, provides coffee, and Hoffman, also a veteran, brings doughnuts.
Van Voorhis, the State Elks Southeast District Veterans chairman, said there are usually 15-20 people at the Wednesday get-togethers, including younger and older veterans.
He said they like to discuss the differences in their experiences across the generations, from the gear they used to what boot camp was like.
“As much as things change, they don’t,” he said, adding there is that “human, emotional side” of things.
Once a month, on the fourth full week of the month, Greg Ford, a readjustment counselor with the Central Oregon Vet Center in Bend, attends the gathering.
Besides shooting the breeze around the table, Ford also offers confidential counseling, outreach and referral service to veterans and their families.
Ford also visits Burns and Christmas Valley during that fourth week of the month.
In one or two months, a video chat system will be set up at the Elks Lodge called TeleHealth, connecting vets with a Boise VA Hospital staff and other VA hospital facilities.
Hoffman has arranged for a free haircut day for veterans this month and is organizing a women’s luncheon for March.
On Monday, Feb. 11, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Hair It Is hairstylists Kimberly McManus (owner) and Miranda Hoodenpyl will offer free haircuts for veterans at their 342 W. Main location. To set up an appointment, call the salon at 541-575-0311.
New window screen signs in John Day at Hoffman’s office at 530 E. Main St., Suite 5, and at the Squeeze In Restaurant offer encouragement with a suicide prevention message.
Part of the signs read “Buddy Check 22 — Are you OK?” which is a familiar saying to military service members.
It’s a reminder to call a veteran and check on how they’re doing to hopefully turn around the statistic that 22 veterans and one active duty service member commit suicide each day.
A confidential suicide prevention lifeline number is listed: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), then press 1.
Vets can also chat at veteranscrisisline.net or text to 838255. The signs, which have a message on one side and are see-through on the other, are designed by Eloise Boren of ER Printing and Graphics in Dayville.
Boren has a son and daughter who are both veterans, and restaurant owner Shawn Duncan’s father and daughter are also veterans.
Duncan said she was “thrilled” when Hoffman asked if she would be interested in displaying the window screen at her restaurant.
“We love supporting our veterans whenever we can,” Duncan said. “I don’t know if everyone knows this, but we give a 10 percent discount to them every day.”
Hoffman said she plans to have the same window screen added to her vehicle.
She said suicides among veterans and active duty soldiers is an epidemic.
For various reasons, both men and women may feel abandoned and betrayed, she said, adding suicides among female vets are on the rise.
Family members who have a loved one affected by post-traumatic stress disorder often don’t know how to help them, she said.
“I want people to be more aware of what’s happening in our military and VA community,” Hoffman said. “We have a lot of vets in Grant County ... They’re changed when they come back. They don’t know what’s available, and a lot of them don’t know the VA can help them.”
She said some veterans who don’t want to talk about mental health issues say there are others “more broken” than they are.
“It’s hard to transition from military to civilian life,” she said. “There’s no structure, unless they have an exit plan when they get out. Most don’t.”
Other challenges can crop up, for example, when a hospital charge is billed incorrectly.
Hoffman said she can work with individuals and their family members or partners to assist them and help navigate the system.
One of the many ways Hoffman can help is assisting veterans in signing up for a Choice Card, which is a Veterans Choice Program benefit that allows vets who live in rural areas, far from a VA hospital, to see a community provider rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility.
She said she can identify with the veterans she visits with, since she’s a veteran herself and a cancer survivor.
“I don’t want our veterans to be frustrated,” she said.
For more information, contact Hoffman at 541-575-1631 or her work cellphone, 541-620-8057. Her office hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays — she’s in Monument on Wednesdays.
“If the flag is out, I’m there,” she said.
A quote on the window screens, which also thanks veterans for their service, reads: “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” — Douglas MacArthur
Angel Carpenter is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-575-0710.