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Fighting for retired veterans


Oregon ranked 44th out of 50 states for quality of life for retired veterans

by: KEVIN SPERL - Angie Gilley, director for Crook County Veterans Services, provides claims assistance services to Crook County veterans seeking access to Veteran's Administration benefits.

In a recent survey rating the quality of life for retired military veterans, the State of Oregon fared badly, ranking 44th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The financial services company, WalletHub.com, used 19 different metrics encompassing economic, quality of life and healthcare categories to rank a state’s military veteran livability index.

Angie Gilley, director for Crook County Veterans Services, feels the placement of Oregon so low on the list is skewed by its lack of active-duty military bases.

“A lot of retirees are going to live where there are active bases, as they are entitled to certain they are entitled to certain benefits,” she said. “Veterans can access the base commissary, the PX exchange stores and other services, for example.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, the average military officer is 45 years-old upon retirement from the service. Enlisted personnel are younger, averaging 41 years of age.

The WalletHub survey states that a veteran’s age at retirement is far younger than the traditional civilian retirement age of 65. Veterans are still in the job market when they leave the military while, at the same time, facing challenges reintegrating back into a “normal” life.

Veteran homelessness is also on the rise, the survey contends, comprising approximately 12 percent of the adult homeless population. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, “about 1.4 million veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.”

USA Today reports that “nearly 50,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were either homeless or in a federal program aimed at keeping them off the streets during 2013, almost triple the number in 2011.

Gilley estimates that there are between 2,500 and 3,000 veterans living in Crook County, although she feels it is difficult to obtain an accurate count, especially when determining the percentage of those who are homeless.

“The problem with trying to document veteran populations is that there are veterans who would rather not tell you they are veterans,” she said.

A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gilley served from January 1984 through June 1987, earning the rank of Cpl. E4.

A native of Alabama, Gilley moved to Prineville in 2007.

“Life circumstances brought me here,” said Gilley, “I came here to start over and this community took me in and treated me like family. This is my home now.”

To give back, Gilley earned her accreditation as a veteran services representative, required to sit for a re-certification exam every two years, attend training conferences and study the laws and regulations regarding veteran services.

According to Gilley, Crook County presents challenges to veterans that include the availability of medical services, veteran residence homes and transportation.

A single veterans’ home in The Dalles and VA medical facilities in Portland and Roseburg is the extent of those types of services available to Oregon’s veterans.

Gilley explained that the state does have a rehabilitation center in White City for treatment of substance abuse, as well as four outpatient clinics, 15 community-based outpatient clinics and five veteran centers.

“Veteran centers are mental health clinics that are separate from the VA system,” said Gilley. “A combat veteran can seek mental health treatment that would not be entered into the VA’s main computer.”

Gilley explained that this separation of record keeping is a good thing.

“Veteran’s might not seek mental health treatment due to its stigma,” she said. “Having this treatment as a part of a veteran’s record (with the VA) might be detrimental to their ability to serve.”

Getting to services is difficult for many veterans, as Gilley says a significant percentage of the veteran population is aging.

“The nearest VA hospital is three to four hours away,” she said. “Just getting to the grocery store, the pharmacy or to other medical appointments is hard.”

To help out, Gilley purchases travel vouchers on Cascades East Transit that can be used for VA-sponsored medical services in Bend, or to connect to the shuttle to Portland.

Gilley’s office also provides claim processing assistance to veterans seeking treatment for service, and non-service, connected medical conditions, as well as VA health enrollment assistance and pensions.

“The only thing the veteran needs to help us with is gathering supporting documentation,” said Gilley. “We fill out and process all the necessary paperwork to send to the VA for approval.”

With respect to WalletHub’s survey, Gilley noted that finding work for Crook County resident veterans is also a challenge.

“Living wage jobs are few and far between, as it is for the general population,” she said. “The VA will tell you that unemployment for veterans is decreasing, but I don’t believe it. For veterans who have families, finding a living wage to support them is difficult.”

Gilley hopes that employers will begin to appreciate the type of an employee they have when they hire a veteran.

“The training we go through in the service and the leadership skills we obtain are significant,” she said. “ When employers begin to understand that leadership qualities are important, hiring veterans would improve.”

Gilley just wants veterans to know she is here to help them.

“This has never been a job for me,” she said. “It is my passion.”

To view the report on each state’s veteran livability index, go to wallethub.com/edu/best-states-for-military-retirees/3915/.

Crook County Veteran’s Services is located at 422 N.W. Beaver St., and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Veterans needing assistance can contact Angie Gilley at 541-447-5304.