Jackson County hosts benefits fair for veterans

VFW Post 1959 chaplain Mario Garcia talks with a vendor at the Homeless/At Risk Veterans Stand Down and Benefits Fair Thursday at the Black River Falls American Legion Post 200.

The Jackson County Veterans Service Office and Tomah VA Medical Center hosted a Homeless/At Risk Veterans Stand Down and Benefits Fair Thursday at the Black River Falls American Legion Post 200, providing information for veterans about many of the services available to them via federal, state and local programs.

“It is a two-fold event, it is a homeless or an at-risk stand down for veterans in the area that can come and get assets and services. It is also a benefits fair for any other veteran. They can come in and as you can see there are many different points of contact here, they can actually find out a lot of information,” Jackson County veterans service officer Randy Bjerke said.

This fair was aimed at getting more veterans in Jackson County connected with the many services that they qualify for, including the Tomah VA Medical Center.

“We could identify that the veteran population in all of our counties is higher than the population of veterans that are actually registered with the VA. That means that there’s a lot of veterans within our counties that just don’t know what their benefits are. They don’t know that they qualify for things. They may not know that we have a homeless program. They may not know that there are other programs that might help them both within the community and the VA,” Tomah VA Medical Center homeless outreach coordinator Amanda Steinhoff said.

The first-time event for Jackson County had more than 20 vendors including several local, state and federal programs.

“We have never had a veterans homeless stand down in Jackson County, so being the first of its kind we have a lot of resources here, a lot of community programs here, a lot of state and federal resources here to help veterans identify if they need any help,” Steinhoff said.

One of those local programs on hand was the local VFW Post 1959 that was helping serve a light meal during the event.

“Since we feel fervent about helping veterans, I shouldn’t say more so than anyone, just as much as anyone else, we want to do a couple of things. First, we want to facilitate this for all of the entities that are here. The American Red Cross, the VA, but we also want to assist with our own personal recruiting drive because there are not very many VFW members,” VFW Post 1959 chaplain Mario Garcia said.

Garcia spoke passionately about the many benefits of the VFW for its members, highlighting the importance of programs for veterans.

“It is that little brotherhood, or that cohesive mindset that we bring to other veterans that could be possibly stumbling a little bit, that could use a helping hand. So what the VFW does in their position, we have an emergency fund,” Garcia said explaining that they recently used the fund to help a veteran replace his roof.

It is connecting even one veteran with programs like the Tomah VA Medical Center and the local VFW that made the event a success for Bjerke.

“Every time that we get a new veteran to come in and find out what is available to them, that is a benefit just in itself because we have one more educated veteran. I don’t like it when they are in the woodwork, so to speak,” Bjerke said. “No matter how many veterans you have, you always wish you had more show up. Because you want to be able to get that word out and be able to inform the veterans that need it.”

If you are a veteran that would like to learn more about the resources that were available during the fair, please contact the Jackson County Veterans Service Office at 715-284-0225 or by email at veterans.services@co.jackson.wi.us.

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Editor

Jordan is the editor of the Jackson County Chronicle. He was born-and-raised in Taylor, Wis. and now he and his family live in Alma Center, Wis. Contact him at 715-284-0085.

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