By Donald Lachman, Special Projects Coordinator and Andrea Talmadge, Regional Coordinator – WestCare Washington/WAServes
Research as well as experience demonstrate that many rural Veterans are eligible, but do not obtain life transforming Veterans Administration (VA) pensions, benefits, and services. This is often related to a lack of information and expertise required to develop a successful claim to the VA. Additionally, many of these same veterans are unaware of valuable local resources available to assist aging, disabled and modest income community members improve the quality of their life. Contributing to this situation is a growing loss of internet and community connectivity by many aging and disabled veterans.
Beginning in January, WestCare Washington/WAServes, the American Legion, and Timberland Regional Library will roll out the second Veterans Connection Café (VCC) program. Hosted at the Westport Timberland Library in rural Grays Harbor County, it will offer remote bi-weekly access to coordinated Veterans’ benefit services and will host special presentations on select topics of interest identified by the local community.
The program will also promote improved internet connectivity and use among rural veterans. Organized under a collaboration with Comcast, it will enhance personal connectivity by offering participants new laptops at no cost to them, low or no cost high-speed internet access, one-on-one individual coaching, and coordinated case management from WestCare.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our need for reliable internet access and proper hardware. The experience one has with this essential connection is also influenced by an individual’s technical skills, health, and limitations. We are currently witnessing a movement that has been accelerated by the pandemic where many traditional activities of daily living are now initiated or conducted through the internet.
As this movement continues to expand, many aging and disabled Veterans are at risk of being left behind. This directly impacts their access to services and increases the likelihood of social isolation – which is a deadly combination. Research demonstrates that experiencing significant social isolation is among the greatest predictors of depression and early death.
WestCare Washington is committed to organizing community partnerships and resources
required to reduce this preventable condition increasingly experienced by rural aging and disabled Veterans. We are excited to continue this partnership to ensure the continued health, well-being, and dignity of the Veterans that we serve!