Out of the between 7,000 and 9,000 veterans in Howard County, officials with the county's Veterans Service Office note that under half of those men and women are enrolled in some type of Veterans Affairs healthcare program.
It's a statistic that's unacceptable to local veterans service officials, especially with the new outpatient VA facility that will soon be built to replace the one in Peru. The new clinic will add more staff and services to accommodate veterans, but they have to be enrolled in VA healthcare to take advantage of the facility.
And that's why local officials are teaming up with VA Northern Indiana Health Care Systems to conduct a healthcare enrollment and benefit fair from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, at the VFW Post 1152, 920 N. Washington St.
"Our goal is to do a push to get our numbers back up," VSO Officer Ross Waltemath said. "The fallout effect of getting our numbers back up is that we want this new clinic that will be built to be as good as they say it's going to be and have all the services they say it's going to have. One of the ways to guarantee that this clinic will do all those things is to get the number up for the people that will ultimately utilize it."
During Tuesday's event, enrollment specialists with VA Northern Indiana will be on hand with their laptops to directly enroll veterans into the VA healthcare system, and Waltemath said all veterans and their families can attend even if they're unsure if they qualify.
"Say as a side note, a guy works at Chrysler and thinks he makes too much money to enroll," Waltemath said. "That doesn't mean he can't enroll. We might be able to pull him aside and do a hearing disability claim and try to get him that 10% [hearing loss] for the ringing in his ears from his days at war, and that 10% will allow him to enroll regardless of his income. So there is usually always a path to enrollment."
Officials said veterans and their families who attend the fair should also try to bring their DD214 or military discharge, VA disability letter if provided and their 2018 household income amount with them on Tuesday, though veterans can still attend the fair without all those documents.
Veterans can also make an appointment for Tuesday's fair by calling 765-456-2511, but walk-ins will be welcome too.
And if they can't attend Tuesday's healthcare fair, Waltemath said they shouldn't just let it go.
"They can still do the hard copy form, and they're going to let us bundle those up together, take them to enrollment and enroll those veterans as part of the program," he said. "So instead of taking six months to get results back, they can get them back in a couple of weeks."
Waltemath said those VA benefits also work for surviving spouses as well, if they have not remarried and their husbands or wives served at least one day in a war era.
Tuesday's healthcare fair is not just for Howard County veterans either; Waltemath said he hopes to see veterans from surrounding counties participate as well.
"It's about family helping family," he said, referring to the reason for the healthcare fair. "This is an extremely busy community with some of these veterans' organizations. Say I had a friend who got injured badly at Chrysler. Lost fingers and a hand. Do you think Chrysler owes him anything? Well, yeah. He got hurt working there.
"The VA system has the same premise," he said. "We sent you off to war. I don't care where you went. You went and did your service, and it's a system that has been put into place to take care of those guys."