The Veteran’s Helping Hand
This is a story about heroes who serve heroes—our veterans of the armed forces. I first met the dedicated warriors of the Veteran’s Assistance Commission of DeKalb County, Illinois (DeKalb VAC) when they visited our law firm, Law Elder Law LLP recently. The DeKalb VAC provide a full range of services related to veteran’s benefits. I wanted to get to know them, because we need a knowledgeable source of VA benefit information in order to serve our clients with excellence. We deal with an important “sliver” of the VA benefits panorama; we often provide free advice to wartime veterans who are over 65 regarding the VA “aid and attendance” long term care benefit. Interestingly, even though the State of Illinois has authorized counties to create Veteran’s Assistance Commissions, most counties have not provided funds to actually fulfill that all-important task. Here in the Chicago metro area we are fortunate to have several county veteran’s assistance commissions. Herb Holderman, Steve “Scooter” Scoughton, Linda Drake, and Tammy Anderson are the knowledgeable and caring team who help “needy and/or disabled veterans” at the DeKalb VAC. Today, the DeKalb VAC serves several hundred veterans every year—but it has not always been there for veteran’s needs. The story of the founding of the DeKalb VAC is a testimony to the power of democracy, a great idea, and the focused persistence of honest men and women with servant’s hearts. Herb Holderman and other community leaders worked together to bring the organization into existence. Herb is now the superintendent—but he worked behind the scenes for years and was the driving force that brought life to the DeKalb VAC. After many years of trying to convince the political powers that there should be a Veteran’s Assistance Commission there, in 2003 Herb and the grassroots group were finally allowed to file a special tax referendum. The goal was to create a taxing district which would fund the veteran’s service organization. As you can imagine, the likelihood of passing a new tax seemed remote. Yet with the help of local veterans’ groups and other concerned citizens, they raised the battle flag and fought for support. The idea proved to be so popular that the referendum passed by a 76% “yes vote”—what a victory! Today, only a few years later, they work to serve veterans from World War II through Iraq and Afghanistan. Their job is to help provide veterans with shelter assistance, food, utilities, transportation to medical appointments, and information about educational and vocational rehabilitation benefits. When I asked what they thought was the most important part of their work, each one had a different perspective. Scooter responded that he enjoys creating close personal relationships with veterans and those who work at the VA hospitals and other principal service providers. That is his way to providing veterans with even greater access to benefits. Tammy shared that she believes that it’s her goal to be both a helper and a listener; she wants to provide the veteran with both patience and compassion. Tammy added, “The Vietnam veterans were treated really badly. I tell them that I am here to fight for them.” Veterans Service Officer Linda loves her job, and her only regret is that she is not a veteran herself. She feels honored to be doing the job of helping brave men and women with VA benefit assistance. Then Herb, the superintendent summarized this way: “Our veterans are proud, and they want to be able to stand on their own. When it gets to the point that they might lose their home, they come in to see us with tears in their eyes. Our job is to help them so that they can keep it all together.” Then he quietly stated, “Unfortunately, this year, due to the times, the needs of the veterans have doubled.” Even though the needs have doubled, this is a story which has many happy endings. It is my privilege to have you meet Herb, Scooter, Tammy, and Linda. Every day they make life better for our United States Armed Forces veterans. I salute you!