Ventura, Calif. – For Tom, joining the Navy at barely eighteen brought him a deep sense of pride and community. For the first time he truly felt part of something and even today, he still smiles when he recalls handling radio communications as part of a task force at sea. Just a few years into his military service, an injury unexpectedly sidelined him and he was released from duties with an honorable discharge.
Tom was not prepared for the culture shock of transitioning from military to civilian life, and in addition to facing long-term service -related medical issues, he grappled with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. He also found it nearly impossible to function in civilian society and struggled finding work and housing.
When Tom came to the County of Ventura’s Veteran Services Office (VSO) he was in bad shape; he was homeless and hungry, had no vehicle and no job and was estranged from his family. He was still in pain from his time in the Navy, and he hadn’t followed through with his claim for service-related injuries. Moreover, he had bed bugs and scabies, and “just wanted to feel clean and human”. VSO staff spent time with Tom, listening to him and making suggestions. By his simple act of asking for help, it was like a dam had broken and Tom suddenly felt ready to take charge of his life.
VSO staff provided Tom with immediate assistance to help get him through tight times and sat with him for hours reviewing documents and preparing his housing application. Tom was encouraged to participate in the Ventura County Homeless Stand Down where he received medical checks and dental care, a haircut, meals, showers, clean clothes, and connection with service providers. His VSO claims officer guided him through deeper engagement with some of these same service providers, taking meaningful steps to begin to improve Tom’s life.
Today, Tom receives disability compensation and his pain and health needs are cared for through local Veterans Administration clinics. He is housed and is clean. Before he made the decision to change his life and get sober, he had felt “less than” and not a part of anything. Now, he is making great strides reestablishing relationships with his family and is making friends with his neighbors; and most importantly to him, he once again feels like he is part of something.
The County of Ventura Veteran Services Office is staffed by fully-accredited Veteran Claims Officers who provide information, referrals, claims preparation and submission, and follow-up services, collaborating with other accredited organizations to ensure Veterans, their dependents, and survivors receive the benefits to which they are entitled. Claims services for Veterans include compensation for service connected disabilities, pension for wartime veterans with non-service connected disabilities, and assistance accessing medical care, educational benefits, and home loans, as well as claims services for widows and dependent children of Veterans.
Services can be accessed countywide through offices in Ventura, Camarillo, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Santa Paula, and Oxnard. Veterans and their dependents can schedule an appointment by calling (805) 477-5155 or learn more by visiting www.vchsa.org/veterans.