Friday, January 16, 2015

Serving (or neglecting) veterans in Washington's San Juan Islands

Another installment of the NPR series on spatial inequality in veterans services is here, as reported by Patricia Murphy.  The dateline is Friday Harbor Washington, on San Juan Island, the only incorporated area in San Juan County (population 15,875), which also includes Orcas, Lopez and many smaller islands.  Although 1700 veterans live in San Juan County--they comprise about a 10th of the population--most are not taking advantage of the benefits to which they are entitled.  Spending by the VA is lower in San Juan County than anywhere else in the state, less than $2500 per veteran.  While the county is served by a veterans services officer, a VA contract position for a counselor has remained unfilled for five years.  The San Juan County Veterans Advisory Board has invited a representative from the Bellingham, Washington Vet Center to visit the island, but none has yet accepted that invitation.  So, Murphy reports:
So a lot of the responsibility for reaching out to veterans who could benefit from counseling falls to a tight-knit community of local vets. 
"You just hear things, you hear people talking," says Shannon Plummer, the American Legion post commander. "You hear that, you know, 'Hey I've got a friend of mine that was in Vietnam, and he's now wanting to talk. Would you be willing to have a talk with him?' We jump right to it."

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