Veterans got help navigating the system designed to help those who served their country Tuesday at the first-ever Northeast Georgia Veterans’ Benefits Fair in Gainesville.
“This is our first one, we wanted to do it during our August recess when we had plenty of resources and time here and I could actually be a part of it as well,” said U.S. Rep. Collins, who spent part of 2008-09 in Iraq as a chaplain with a U.S. Air Force Reserve unit.
The event was hosted at the American Legion Paul E. Bolding Post 7 Riverside Drive headquarters, and ran through the afternoon as representatives from all facets of veteran’s affairs answered questions to help veterans navigate the often slow-moving, complexities of the system.
Collins, who organized the event, said Georgia’s 9th District has a huge veteran population, with more than half of households having someone who has served.
“Veterans’ issues are our predominant case load. They’re the biggest questions that come to our office, you know, issues with VA benefits, medical benefits, and also educational benefits — other things. So we said, ‘Why don’t we just do an event like this, we get as many representatives in the room as we can, and let them bring their concerns, bring their needs, and get their answers all at one place?’” Collins said.
At times, a collective groan could be heard as Darlene Dukes with the VA regional office in Decatur explained the benefits appeals process. A few veterans were more forthcoming in their disgruntlement, vocally venting their frustrations.
Dave Dellinger, who until about a month ago was commander of the Paul E. Bolding Post 7, said the level of dissatisfaction is understandable.
“The VA is just one of those entities that is — there are so many delays. People have put in for a claim and it’s two or three years before you even hear from the VA,” he said.
Collins said his office tries to cut through the red tape to get answers for veterans.
“The main thing is cutting through the clutter. Unfortunately, dealing with government bureaucracies, if you do it as an individual, sometimes things fall through the cracks,” he said. “So when they come to us, they typically have tried to work their problem, they tried to get help and they couldn’t, they come to us, and we’re able to, through congressional inquiry, make connections that we have that can help facilitate an answer. Sometimes it’s the answer they want, sometimes it’s not the answer they would like, but we’re working toward getting them an answer.”
The event allowed veterans to get face-to-face time with the people who reach out to Washington — Collins’ constituent services staff — who organized the meeting, contacting groups his office normally interacts with for veteran’s affairs, he said.
And Collins said it won’t be the last time such an event is held.
“This is our first, but not our last, and this will not be our only location. We’ll be looking to do these across the district over time,” he said.