By Mannix Porterfield
New Veterans Assistance Secretary Rick Thompson is planning a multi-city tour in September to learn firsthand the problems ex-military people are encountering in West Virginia, which leads the nation in duty with the armed forces.
There are an estimated 200,000 veterans in West Virginia, dating back to the World War II era, and, in fact, one in 10 residents has seen military duty, Thompson pointed out Thursday.
“I want to move around the state to five different locations in 30 days to quickly gather up information that might be helpful for the department to make us better and see what the veterans are saying out there that we would do to improve our service and get it out more,” Thompson said.
First up is a Sept. 11 meeting with veterans in Beckley at the Raleigh County Commission on Aging, in a 1 p.m. event.
Thompson said his goal is to outline various services, such as education, benefits, claims so that veterans are more aware of what assistance is available.
“I thought by going out into locations other than our offices, places like senior centers and Veterans of Foreign War posts, they would be more relaxed and see us and give us whatever they think we should be doing to improve our services,” the secretary said.
“There are a lot of different issues and a lot of different problems. But there is also a bunch of different support out there. Our agency does a lot of things that some veterans are not aware of.”
In addition, he said, other state agencies also provide some services.
“I’m sure I’ll get questions about those kinds of things,” he said.
A former speaker of the House of Delegates, the new secretary is a veteran, having volunteered for the draft in 1972 and wound up assigned to a Military Police unit in his two-year hitch.
Some 30 bills affecting veterans were enacted during his tenure as speaker.
In advance of his five-city swing, Thompson has been in conference with WorkForce West Virginia, which operates an expansive effort to help discharged military people find jobs. He also has met with the Department of Health and Human Resources on such matters as aiding veterans who need transportation in wheelchair-accessible vans.
Moreover, Thompson said he has had talks with higher education sources as well, since many veterans aren’t taking advantage of classes provided under the G.I. Bill.
“There are a number of different services we want to get to veterans, not to mention those with physical and mental health issues,” he said.
Other meetings are planned in Barboursville, Clarksburg, Martinsburg and Moundsville.
Late in the month, Thompson wants to meet with other groups outside the service organizations, such as the state Chamber of Commerce, so that services are not duplicated.
Thompson said he feels his five-city tour will be beneficial to his department and veterans alike.
“I thought for one month I would just basically do that,” he said.
“I hope to get a lot of input quickly that I can put to use.”
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