According to the latest count, Monroe County’s veteran population is 2,704 and while many of them enjoy benefits offered through Aberdeen and Amory’s veteran services offices and posts throughout the county, there are still others missing opportunities.
Through resources such as camaraderie, volunteering, health care and monetary benefits, these organizations and offices are designed to help veterans.
“There are two different programs with the money side dealing with the VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs]. One is compensation, which makes payments directly to the veteran if they’ve had some sort of service-connected disability or injury. Those rates can go as low as 10 percent, which is $142 per month, to as high as 100 percent, which is over $3,200 per month,” said Jason Sullivan, who serves the Amory veteran services office.
He added the U.S. Congress implemented the other monetary system – the pension program – decades ago because of the number of veterans and widows of veterans living in poverty.
“Pensions are for those who have the lowest net income. I have a lot of widows who just get an $800 per month Social Security check. Those are the ones I can help supplement that income, and we can usually double that income so they can keep the lights on.”
There is also a program to help pay for a percentage of long-term care facility costs and there is also the availability of veterans homes, which have little to no costs for honorably discharged veterans.
“[District 3 Supervisor] Rubel [West] mentioned not long ago that the last half of my career I was a recruiter for this area for the Army and the Guard and was there on the front end of their careers. He said, ‘Now you’re on the back half trying to get them benefits.’ It’s really rewarding to help them on both sides of their career,” Sullivan said. “Rubel said, ‘You take them all the way to the grave with honors for their funeral and to mark their grave appropriately with a headstone or a foot stone.’ He said, ‘You take them beyond the grave with helping their surviving widows to get them pensions to help their lives financially.’”
In addition to monetary benefits, Sullivan elaborated on the available health care benefits.
“All veterans who were honorably discharged are eligible for enrollment in VA health care. Everybody is eligible for health care. If you’re retired or a combat veteran, or both, you’re going to be priority 1. The health care groups are divided into priority groups 1 through 8. What those priority groups mean is the level of care you can get,” Sullivan said.
He said priority 1 offers every service the VA has to offer while priority 8 may offer an annual comprehensive exam, for example.
“Those priority groups are made for a reason, and that’s to take care of the most urgent – the ones who are less fortunate financially and things like that,” Sullivan said, adding there are other contributing factors for eligibility for different priority classes.
Tupelo’s clinic falls under the Memphis VA’s territory, while the Columbus clinic is part of the Jackson VA’s territory. Sullivan spoke highly of the Tuscaloosa VA.
Through his time serving at both the Aberdeen and Amory veteran services officers, Sullivan has achieved numerous accomplishments for veterans and their widows. He elaborated on one recent success for a local veteran with medical issues who had been denied benefits for five years but was recently approved for financial benefits.
“We persevered, kept on trying and we never gave up. Now, most of his quality of life is gone but he can improve his quality of life because of the amount of income he has. This is a guy who has been down on his luck for years and couldn’t work anymore, even though he wanted to work. He couldn’t even buy a house or a nice car or a wheelchair ramp and now he can get all of the above. He’s able to say things in his 50s he’s never been able to say in most of his adult life,” Sullivan said.
He thanked the Monroe County Board of Supervisors of the support it has given to his office.
Sullivan also credits Keith Garner, Thomas Gilleylen and Sylvia Patterson as some of the volunteers who have helped at the Amory office.
“Anyone looking for help, he definitely is the one to see,” said Garner, who served in Iraq during his time of service with the U.S. Marines.
From occasional cookouts and events throughout the year honoring veterans, Monroe County has several veterans posts, giving those who served a place to gather and continue sharing a sense of brotherhood.
Veterans posts serving Monroe County include American Legion Post 26 in Aberdeen, American Legion Post 239 in Amory and VFW Post 4490, just outside of Aberdeen.
“We’ve served plenty of veterans in our community, especially since we got everything turned around. At my first meeting a year and a half ago, they were voting to close the VFW,” said post commander Anthony Daniels, adding there are more than 110 members now. “At about every meeting, we’ve helped someone either financially or otherwise.”
He said an elderly couple who are members of the post was helped by a fellow member who repaired their air conditioner unit this summer through a freon donation from Post 4490. Another member passed away, and the post provided for driveway repairs for a relative who is a handicap child still living in his home.
People have also donated walkers and wheelchairs to VFW Post 4490 to be distributed to those in need.
While criteria for the VFW used to be strictly for veterans of foreign wars, now it has expanded to other conditions.