ELKHART — Elkhart County’s veterans’ service officer has a simple message for local veterans.
“If you haven’t been to our office to give us a chance, come by and let us discuss benefits with you,” Ron Lundy said Friday, Nov. 8.
Lundy said that he and his two support staff members, Dawn Troyer and Karen Books, get between 15 and 20 walk-in visits from veterans every day. And 99 percent of them, he added, learn something about their eligibility for benefits that they didn’t know before.
So, what do you need to know about visiting the veterans’ service office?
Help for everyone
Lundy said that his office exists to serve veterans living in Elkhart County. But in many cases, he also can help veterans who just work in Elkhart County, or spend time there during his office’s open hours. The bottom line, Lundy said, is that he won’t turn a veteran away — even if that means referring a veteran to another office or agency.
The kind of help a veteran might qualify for varies depending on his or her individual situation, he added.
The No. 1 reason veterans come in is to get help with a health or disability issue, Lundy said, but people also come in because they’ve received paperwork about their benefits that they don’t understand, or they need paperwork that they’ve misplaced.
“And just generally, (veterans ask), ‘What benefits do I have?’” Lundy said.
At the first visit, veterans will likely meet with one of Lundy’s support staff, Troyer or Books. During that time, veterans can talk about what they think they might need and set up an appointment to meet with Lundy. Then, Lundy uses the veterans’ discharge papers to figure out what kind of help is available.
From WWII to last Friday
Visitors to the veterans’ service office aren’t always part of an older generation, Lundy said — he sees plenty of younger veterans too.
“I have everyone from World War II veterans to people who just got out (of the military) last Friday,” he said.
Veterans who served after 2001 are much more informed about the benefits they have, he said, because the military is now doing a better job at making sure people leaving military service understand how to apply for benefits.
Younger veterans ask about going to school or home loans, Lundy said. He’s also seen a significant number of younger veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Older veterans, especially those who served during WWII, are surprised that they can get services. Sometimes, veterans and their widows even think that money they receive is a mistake, according to Lundy.
“(I tell them), this isn’t a handout,” Lundy said. “This is something where, because you served our country, I’m going to tell you about some benefits.”
One major thing that older veterans don’t know, Lundy said, is that there is a pension available for veterans under certain circumstances — such as when they earn a low income, are homebound or paying for care, or are getting ready to go into an assisted living facility. Many veterans think that they need to have retired from military service to qualify for this pension, Lundy said, but that’s not the case.
“The main thing we are trying to get the word out about right now is the pension,” Lundy said. “Most of the (older veterans) don’t know about it, and they are the ones who are probably eligible for it.”
How to get there
The veterans’ service office is located at 320 W. High St., Elkhart. The phone number there is 574-523-2342.
The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. But if those times don’t work or you are not physically able to come in to the office, Lundy said he will meet with veterans outside of normal office hours and in their home if needed.