MARIETTA - A group of 16 Mid-Ohio Valley organizations has joined forces in an effort to help keep former U.S. military members up to date on veterans benefits.
The Mid-Ohio Valley Veterans Outreach group held its first official meeting in June and continues to meet every two weeks, planning events that will help get the word out about services and benefits for vets.
"A lot of veterans don't have any idea about what's available to them. Instead of a long clinic on benefits, we try to provide a more casual setting," said Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews, who represents the city in the veterans outreach group.
The group recently coordinated a dinner for vets at Norwood United Methodist Church, and a picnic for veterans and their families that included activities for children was held at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5108 in Marietta.
A mobile health clinic was also held for veterans at Armory Square in Marietta on Saturday, providing flu shots, diabetes screening, blood pressure checks and other services.
"And in October we're planning another picnic at the Veterans Memorial Park near the airport in Wood County (W.Va.)," Matthews said.
He said at each event tables are set up with a variety of information about opportunities and benefits for those who have served in the armed forces, including education and employment assistance, health care and housing.
Matthews noted veterans health clinics are located in both Marietta and Parkersburg, but many vets aren't aware that they can receive services there.
"One older vet I knew was traveling all the way to the veterans hospital in Clarksburg for treatment, because at that time the treatment he needed wasn't available locally," he said. "Now the local clinics can provide many of those services."
Chad Wright, veterans services officer with the Washington County Veterans Services Center and vice president of the MOVVA committee, said the group is basically a volunteer effort that had its roots in a conversation he had with the pastor of Norwood Methodist Church last May.
"The purpose was to get all of these organizations together in hopes of doing a better job of getting the word out about veterans benefits and services," he said.
"There are things vets may need help with-education, for example, and during these dinners and other events they may be able to sit down and talk with people from WVU Parkersburg and Washington State Community College."
Wright said the outreach is also to veterans in Noble, Morgan and Athens counties in Ohio as well as to vets across the river in West Virginia.
"Any veteran is welcome to attend these events which are announced in the newspaper and on local radio stations," he said.
As a veteran coming out of the Marines in 2003, Wright discovered benefits offered to former service members were not widely advertised.
"When I got out I basically knew nothing about those benefits," he said. "And I've found that a lot of vets still don't know about them. Right now there's an Ohio Bonus Program for veterans of Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan who live in this state. They can receive a bonus of up to $1,500, depending on when they served, but the deadline to file for Desert Storm vets is Dec. 31 of this year."
Wright said another recent development from the Veterans Administration allows veterans filing for service-related disability to receive an additional year of pay once their application is approved.
"We help all veterans, but we especially want to reach out to the Iraq and Afghanistan vets who are returning home," he said.
In addition to learning about their latest benefits and other information, the casual veterans outreach events give local vets an opportunity to get together with others who've had similar experiences serving in the military, and maybe even meet a new friend.
"At the VFW picnic I noticed one vet had been standing off to the side by himself for a while, so I went up and introduced myself," Matthews said. "It turned out he was just kind of shy. I think a lot of vets are that way. But once you speak to them they'll open right up. These events can help bring those people together with other veterans."
He said the MOVVO group is currently considering applying for nonprofit 501c3 status.
Wright said the local community has been generous in helping support the veterans events with donations, including food and prizes.
"But we probably can't continue to operate strictly on donations in the future, so becoming a 501c3 organization would help," he said.