With the onset of this holiday season many veterans may feel relief to know there is a 24-hour, 7-day a week veteran call and referral hotline available to them and their families. The hotline 1-877-WAR-VETS (877-927-8387) is an around the clock call center where combat veterans and their families can call to talk about their military and combat experiences, issue they are facing in their readjustment to civilian life, or any other matter in relation to the needs of a service member or their family.
Since the call center first opened in March of 2009, Navy Combat Veteran and retired Master Chief Thomas McCabe says the center has fielded approximately 60,000 calls and has been able to help veterans or their family with any issue that may arise.
“If a veteran calls, there is not anything we can't help them with. Even if it has nothing to do with mental health or medical benefits – we can also point them in the direction for home loans, getting copies of their DD-214's (discharge papers) or other similar paperwork, cemetery benefits, or if they don't get their check we can get them a telephone number and transfer to get their funds,” said McCabe.
Specific to Native Veterans, McCabe says the center can help locate more readily available care when possible to veterans that live in rural areas such as reservations.
“Generally, what we will do is try to find them the closest veteran center or we also have Mobile Veteran Centers (MVC) which are full-size Winnebago's which go out to rural areas – sometimes they take mental health counselors or nurses to provide vaccinations – or for routine health care issues. There are 50 MVCs now – we're working on getting 50 more,” he said.
Sharon Batala (Hopi) is a counselor at Hopi Veterans Outreach – deals with Native Veterans from the Hopi and Navajo reservations on a daily basis and as a ten-year Air Force veteran herself, is familiar with the needs unique to Native vets and their families.
Batala says after returning home from active duty, readjusting to civilian life was difficult. Taking advantage of her life experience, she was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs and now works as a counselor for veterans. “I work assisting veterans and families make that adjustment after returning. I thoroughly enjoy my work with Readjustment counseling services; we have so much information to share.”
She also expressed appreciation for the VA’s embracing of Native culture in assisting veterans on the road to recovery and the 877-WAR-VETS outreach center.
“We developed a poster that has the 877-WAR-VETS number on it,” says Batala of one of the hotline’s poster with a Native Dancer in full regalia. “I give this poster out to all veterans. It is a talking tool because the picture is a dancer dancing his dance for us Indians.”
“Our dance and song takes us to a different place in our mind. When we have problems that come from war, we can use our ways to put our mind in a different place, so that we are no longer there and we are no longer living in the past. We are living in the moment and we are living in right now, which is to be dancing, to be moving, to be one with that spirit.”
For both McCabe and Batala the main factor toward helping veterans today is to convince them that it is safe to take that first step and step into a facility that is willing to offer help.
“If we can get them in the door, that's half the battle,” says McCabe. He explained that many vets are worried that they will suffer from poor care or poor treatment that the Vietnam veterans received. McCabe said 2012 is a whole new era. He said the VA is more helpful today. “Just because you go in with a certain criteria of symptoms you are not going to get locked up, you are not going to get hospitalized. They are here to help you.”
“This Nation truly appreciates your service,” says Batala. “Now go out and ask questions, take advantage of what you have earned. If not for yourselves, then do it for your family and children. The VA is a big organization, its benefits are complex but there are people who can help answer your questions, give it a try.”
As a last thought, McCabe expressed appreciation to ICTMN for getting out the message to Native veterans. “I served with several Native Americans when I was in the Navy. I found every single one of them to be great guys.”