Tag Archives: veteran service officers

Honoring the Fallen's Legacy

Vantage Point: A Salute to Independence

Recently, I met Eric Fritts, Okanogan County’s Veteran Service Officer, and he invited me to stop in to tour the U.S. Armed Forces Legacy Project of Tonasket, WA, on my next trip north.

I have driven past the prestigious site many times, and the red, white, and blue American flag blowing regally in the wind, surrounded by the 5 tall rock pillars representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, all encircled by 8 walls of plaques honoring veterans always takes my breath away.

Stepping out of my car, I could not help but feel I was on revered ground. The intimacy of the artwork, the absolute pride of craftsmanship reflected in every piece honoring each branch of the United States military, was so thought out.

Unlike a memorial, a legacy accepts the names of living veterans in addition to those who have died. It is both a project and an organization with the specific purpose of building and maintaining a tribute to America’s past, present, and future veterans.

Its mission is to serve veterans and members of our armed forces by honoring all those who gave, including those who gave their all, on their walls, by housing a military library, and by guiding them and their families through their complicated benefits with the help of a service officer like Eric.

As I walked through the library, I got to overhear Eric helping an older gentleman set up his wellness account online. “What kindergarten did you attend?” Eric asked to set up his profile.

“I didn’t go to kindergarten,” the vet said.

“Well, that explains a lot,” teased his friend.

It was a moment that perfectly illustrated the atmosphere of the legacy, which draws the vets in and makes them comfortable accepting Eric’s expertise and help with navigating their benefits. Eric is a veteran himself, and he helps make them feel at home there.

While walking through the grounds, I met a woman who was tending them meticulously. I learned she was the wife of one of the founders and had served as a nurse in Vietnam. Her pride in the site was quiet but profound.

Thanking her for her service, I asked her what it meant to donate her time to the site. She simply replied, “Healing.”

Health Alliance hopes you enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks, and as you celebrate America’s independence, that you also pause to appreciate the brave and humble men and women who are unselfishly willing to give their all.

Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. During her time off she enjoys spending time with her family and riding horses.        

Honoring Our Veterans

Long View: Remember Veterans this Independence Day

Independence Day is almost a month away, but I am already looking forward to it because—you guessed it—the food. Barbecued chicken and ribs, potato salad, and deviled eggs, all in the same meal? It’s almost too good to be true. However, the holiday also moves me beyond just my stomach.

To mark the day, I hang the American flag on the front porch if it’s not raining. This simple act always reminds me of the many service members who have helped defend our nation. Being in the military must be a very challenging experience, so I am thankful there are resources available to military personnel after they serve. One such resource is the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Local veteran service officers can help veterans navigate the many useful programs offered in their area. The resources they offer include help finding employment, starting or continuing an education ,or launching a small business. The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs also helps people who are transitioning from active duty to civilian life, which can be a complicated process.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website features an easy-to-navigate section on health topics. Some are of general interest (like cataracts), while others are topics of specific interest to service members (like readjustment counseling). One of the department’s more pressing challenges is to provide support for homeless veterans or recently discharged service members. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that about 12% of homeless people at any given time in the U.S. are veterans.

One local group that’s fighting homelessness is C-U at Home. Executive Director Melany Jackson and her dedicated volunteers support our most vulnerable homeless citizens. Their annual fundraiser, One Winter Night, encourages public service figures, community leaders, business leaders, academic leaders, and other community members to spend the night outside in a cardboard box.

“The percentage of homeless veterans has not diminished in recent years,” Melany told me. “They typically face complex situations that need to be addressed. We strive to match them with the many services available in our area. The public awareness and donations generated by our event helps us fund this very important work.”

I know many of you have served in the military or have friends and family who have served. Health Alliance Medicare thanks all those who have protected this country and allow us to continue celebrating Independence Day. This year I plan on being more about the flag and less about the food.