By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
As the nation prepares to honor those who served on Saturday, the Wood County Veterans Assistance Center is working to serve the 12,895 veterans living in this county.
Mary Hanna, a Vietnam War veteran and executive director of the county office, presented a program this week on veterans in Wood County. Though few in the room were veterans themselves, the majority were descendants of those who served.
“Presentations like this are like preaching to the choir,” Hanna said.
Over the years, the county has seen the age of its veterans shift. The current stats show the following numbers in each age group:
- 2,321 ages 17 to 44
- 3,901 ages 45 to 64
- 4,903 ages 65 to 84
- 1,770 ages 85 and older.
The biggest share are Vietnam veterans (33 percent), followed by peacetime (23 percent), Persian Gulf (22 percent), World War II (12 percent) and Korean War (10 percent).
Women veterans in Wood County total 850, accounting for 7 percent of the veterans overall.
The number of veterans to die last year in the county was 111. Meanwhile, the number of new veterans registering here was 1,146. It’s that disparity that worries Hanna, since the federal government is eyeing cuts to the Veterans Administration’s budget.
The federal stats put Wood County’s veteran population at 8,100 – but Hanna has proven that the number is actually 12,895.
“We’re gaining veterans in this county,” and she wants to be able to give them the service they deserve, Hanna said.
Last year, the Veterans Assistance Center had contact with 14,424 veterans, and several of their dependents.
“Our services don’t only address the veterans, we have services for their dependents,” Hanna said. Nearly a quarter of the dependents are from WWII veterans. “Most of those WWII veterans now are in nursing homes or other care.”
One of the main services offered by the county office is transportation to VA medical facilities for veterans with no other options. Last year, 310 transports were provided. “We pick them up at their door and take them to their appointment, then return them back home,” Hanna said.
The office also provides emergency financial assistance. Last year, that financial help added up to $71,728. The biggest need was food (43 percent) followed by rent and mortgage assistance (25 percent), then such items as electric bills, burial expenses and car insurance.
“Every county operates differently,” Hanna said. “We rarely turn a veteran away who is in need if they can substantiate the need. If they can show the need, we help them.”
The office also makes sure veterans get the federal benefits that are coming to them.
“This is what I really love to do – making sure veterans get everything they are entitled to is my passion,” she said.
In 2016, the veterans assistance office helped secure $33.6 million in federal dollars for local veterans.
“I know that money is going to the veterans who deserve it,” Hanna said.
The office also helps make sure local veterans get their pensions, medical aid and education services. Approximately 1,200 veterans in Wood County receive disability pay.
And the office provides funding for grave flags and markers, plus honor detail services at burials.
The veterans office has made some changes in recent years to better meet the health needs of those who served. Video conferencing was added to offer a telemental health pilot program with Ann Arbor. And this fall, the office started a partnership with the BGSU Speech and Hearing Clinic to help veterans recover from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
With all the services provided by the office, Hanna said she is the recipient of more benefits. “The veterans that I serve have done so much more for me and my spiritual growth than I could ever do for them,” Hanna said.