LUMBERTON — After more than 25 years of service to his nation, veteran Jimmy Wactor knows all too well the cruelty of man, but on Friday morning he got an opportunity to see the kind of inherent kindness and generosity of spirit that he fought to protect.
“It is good to see people out here. This is important for veterans to see,” Wactor said. “This has opened a lot of doors for veterans that they didn’t know existed. A lot of veterans, when they leave the military, they think it is all over for them, but they learn about this and it opens doors.”
Wactor was one of many veterans from Robeson, Bladen and Columbus counties who showed up at the inaugural Three County Homeless Veterans and Community Stand Down, which took place at the National Guard Armory.
The event was organized through a collaboration between the K&L Veterans Homes and Services, the Department of Commerce and the Fayetteville VA Medical Center Rural Health Team, as a way of reaching out to veterans living in remote areas that might not be aware of services available to them.
The event also served as a health fair, during which the rural team was able to provide information on diabetes management, controlling hypertension and cholesterol levels, women’s health care, mental health services and other specialized programs available to veterans. An eligibility and enrollment specialist was on-hand to discuss VA health benefits and accept veterans’ enrollments on site.
“There are a lot of veterans who don’t think they can get this kind of help,” Wactor said. “Especially guys who don’t retire, the guys who get out early after two or three years. There are still a lot of services available to them. A lot think that the VA is for retired military or disabled. A lot of these guys need it.”
According to Karla Carter, founder of K&L Veterans Homes and Services, there have been many veterans who have been burned by a slow-moving bureaucracy, and as a result they will choose no health care over the frustrations of inefficient health care.
“The wait time was very extensive, and when you get to a point where you are coming from a rural area where you don’t have available transportation, it is easy for veterans to just quit coming,” Carter said. “See, with the VA, in order to get assistance, you have to be persistent. That can be harder for folks living far away, and if you start missing your appointments, they would start you all over again. They say to themselves, ‘well I am not going to try that again.’ What the government has done, is pulled together things like the rural team, that can reach out to these veterans. Right now, the VA has been stigmatized very, very bad, but we want to help get these people back in the system.”
In April, news that 40 veterans had died while waiting for service at an VA hospital in Arizona sparked public outcry, and brought national attention to a problem of disorganization that has existed for decades.
“It is a problem that has existed for a long time and what those headlines did was rip a bandage off a scar,” Carter said. “But now that the scar is out in the open, now is the time to let it heal. We have to heal it as fast as possible and as quick as possible.”