GOSHEN — Elkhart County Veterans Services provides assistance to about 15,000 veterans.
Ron Lundy, the Elkhart County Veterans Service officer, is a veteran himself. He retired from the U.S. Navy after serving in submarines and is originally from Bristol.
Lundy’s department of three people works to help those 15,000 veterans and their families year round.
“I love my job,” he said. “We get to help those who fought for our freedom. We must take care of our veterans. It’s a very important job!”
Elkhart and St. Joseph counties rank among the highest in numbers of Vietnam War veterans in Indiana, according to Lundy’s office.
It’s been 38 years since American troops were evacuated from Vietnam and many of those veterans are just now seeking services for the first time.
When servicemen were discharged, most were not given information on all of the services available to them, Lundy said. Many veterans and their family members seeking services are often surprised to discover how many services they are eligible for, he said.
In 2012, approximately $18 million in benefits for veterans came into Elkhart County, Lundy said.
Some of the services and referrals include:
• VA health care enrollment
• Service connected disabilities
• VA pensions (for veterans and their widows)
• VA home loans
• VA small business loans
• VA life insurance
• Burial and memorial benefits
• National Guard and Reserves (must have been called to active duty by the president)
• Survivor/dependent benefits
• Filing for appeals
• Medals and corrections to the DD214 (report of separation/discharge)
• Upgrades of discharge (DD214)
To be eligible for most services, a veteran must have served 90 days active duty with an honorable discharge. If their service was after 1980, they are required to have 24 months active duty and an honorable discharge. Pension benefits also require one day of service during time of war. Those who have a bad conduct discharge cannot receive assistance.
An average day at the Veteran’s Services office includes five scheduled appointments, 10 to 15 walk-ins, and numerous phone calls. Dawn Troyer, secretary, and Karen Books, intake specialist, greet visitors, answer the phone, set up appointments and make referrals. In addition, the office staff orders and tracks flags and markers for Memorial Day based on requests from other organizations serving Veterans, including the DAV, American Legion and VFW. Money to make the purchases comes mostly from private donations, although Martin’s Supermarkets is an ongoing supporter of this annual project.
In addition to set appointments, Lundy said he also visits veterans in nursing homes, assisted living centers and hospitals, when needed. Finding out a Veteran passed away shortly after visiting them is Ron’s least favorite part of the job, but he knows the importance of visiting them for both the veteran and their family. Currently, veterans needing services at a Veteran Affairs hospital must travel to Fort Wayne or Marion, creating additional challenges and travel expenses. Local veterans also have the local Goshen VA Clinic for most of their general health care needs. In 2015, a larger VA health care facility will open in South Bend, which Lundy said will serve veterans from Elkhart County.
Lundy is the sixth veterans service officer since the department began in the 1940s.
He said, “Our job is to help every veteran in Elkhart County. We would like to get the word out to The Goshen News readers to send Veterans (family, friends, neighbors, etc.) to see us. It’s never too late to come for services.”
The agency is located at 320 W. High St., Elkhart and the phone number is 574-523-2342.