When one of Crook County's congressional delegates comes to town to host a town hall, they oftentimes field concerns from frustrated veterans who have had trouble dealing with the Veterans Administration.
The issues vary, but the common denominator is that they have failed to adequately connect with the office, and it has prevented them from receiving important services or benefits.
Crook County's Veterans Services Office Director Shannon Dearth knows the issue well, which is why he was so excited to learn recently that the Portland VA Office was coming to town for a face-to-face Listening Session. He eagerly promoted the event in hopes that the hosting Elks Lodge building would be bursting at the seams with Crook County veterans, questions and concerns at the ready.
The session took place Tuesday afternoon and it didn't disappoint. Dearth was pleased to announce that local veterans indeed filled the room. And despite past frustrations dealing with the VA, the veterans in attendance engaged in productive conversations with the directors and resource providers. It was a positive experience rather than other listening sessions, which Dearth said have often devolved into shouting matches.
An estimated 75 veterans made the trip. VA officials met with those in attendance individually and helped them get their questions answered and concerns addressed. Also, in a very classy move, VA officials took time to honor more than 20 local Vietnam veterans with a lapel pin ceremony. It was a great gesture, leaving many veterans beaming.
VA officials, likewise, left the Prineville session pleased with how the event unfolded.
Dearth believes the face-to-face interactions were huge. Besides veterans receiving attention individually to work out issues with claims or other concerns, the VA was able to learn more about the needs of rural veterans. In turn, local veterans were able to put a face to some of the people in Portland that they depend upon on a regular basis.
He ultimately believes that it opened the doors for more of a working relationship with the VA in Crook County.
Both groups got this right. The VA made the right decision in coming to Prineville and taking the time to listen to and assist local veterans — and the veterans who came to the listening session made what is likely a strong first impression by keeping the event positive and showing up in strong numbers.
Whether the VA returns to Prineville anytime soon remains to be seen. There are a lot of communities in Oregon and presumably a large amount in rural areas that have yet to receive a listening session of their own.
But if the VA is in a habit of repeat visits, it seems likely that after a successful event last week, Prineville made the list of places to go down the road.
The biggest hoped-for end result, though, is a basic one: That local veterans used the event to improve their situations with, and opinions of, the VA.
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