By Mindy Moser
It is an honor and privilege to be asked to write an article about the work that I do with our past, present, active and retired military for The OffBeat Business Magazine. Daily, I read many articles on the topics of our serving military, veterans and military family members – from why you should hire veterans, to how to handle PTSD of a loved one, to their suicide rate. You name the topic, and if it has to do with our serving military, veterans and military family members – I read it. The one thing I see lacking are the stories of those who we serve through SMVMF. This article Is dedicated to them.
I began being of service to our Serving Military, Veterans and Military Family (SMVMF) members in January 2013. It wasn’t until July 2013 I met the faces of those I was of service too. I met their family members and listened to their stories and in the end resolved as many legal issues for them as I could. The day I walked into the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Dallas, Texas is a day I will never forget. It was a hot summer day in July. I had a dress on because of the heat. Our VA is complicated to say the least and getting lost at the hospital is a rite of passage. One I passed with flying colors. I asked for directions 5 times!
I finally found my way to the correct room, and from the get-go there were lots of problems. The room was too small to accommodate those in need of legal help. I remember thinking it strange so many family members came with the veterans. They were there to help pass the time. They knew it would be a long wait, and that day they waited and waited. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong that day.
What was supposed to take three hours took six. The room wasn’t big enough to hold everyone so they were waiting in the hallway, downstairs, and in any spare room we could find. We couldn’t find enough side rooms for the attorneys to counsel clients, and we were processing their paperwork on the floor. I would say there were at least 80 people there that day, not including attorneys and support staff. Did I mention the A/C was almost non-existent? On a 102 degree day in July in Dallas, Texas A/C is necessary!
This was the experience they had always known. It was hard to accept, but being my first time to work the VA Clinic I didn’t know any better. Thank goodness the clinic was moved the next month to the Veterans Resource Clinic down right down the road. What a difference it would make in being able to meet with those in most need.
Talk about a transformation! We would now be able to see, talk and counsel our veterans in the new location. I was able to greet them with a smile and shake their hand and have a seat with them while I listened to their needs. Those needs ranged from changing a discharge status from fifty years ago to eviction and home foreclosure notices. You name the legal issue, they brought it to us. They heard there was low/no cost legal service for low-income veterans and they flocked to us in droves. It broke my heart every month, looking into their eyes, knowing the organization wouldn’t be able to help them all, but a very few. Helping those few is what kept me coming back for more.
My world stopped spinning for the veterans clinic. I got to be with them only 12 times a year, and almost no activity was worth the sacrifice of not being at the clinic. I was fortunate to spend almost 24 clinics with them. The faces I got to see were rough, wrinkled, and angry. They weren’t there because things were going good in their lives. They were there because they were in trouble.
We had to triage the issues they brought to us, because it wasn’t only legal issues they needed help with, it was housing insecurities, and what broke my heart were the addiction issues. Some were so high they couldn’t write their name and they were renting a room from a friend. One veteran slept in a barn with horses because she was so afraid of people and lost complete ability to trust. Some were homeless, and we had those veterans who were out of touch with reality. I developed a “Code Word” for those working the clinic in case there was an emergency so as not to alert the entire room and have panic.
The hardest part for me was knowing when we got the cases back to the office, they would mostly be closed with no help. The hope in their face was gut wrenching. I use to tell them “I can’t make any promises, but I’ll ask.” As a volunteer, I truly did try to resolve their issue any way I could. Again, they weren’t there because things were going good in their lives … they were there because they were in trouble and in desperate need of help.
And now, as my work with our Serving Military, Veterans and Military Family members shifts to justice-involved veterans, peer recovery coaching, suicide awareness, education and housing – I still think about those faces I don’t get to see on a monthly basis.
I wonder … who is helping them?
Mindy Moser assists our Serving Military, Veterans and Military Families (SMVMF) as the Managing Partner with We Six Who See 360 Degrees. The firm works on veteran legal issues, peer recovery coaching, education, housing and employment. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the firm’s website at www.wesixwhosee.com