As the nation honors the men and women who have served and who are currently serving America in the armed services on Veteran's Day Wednesday, Nov. 11, the Chronicle talks with Columbia County's Veteran Services Officer Russ Clark for his insight into the challenges facing veterans today.
The Chronicle: From your vantage point, what are local veterans finding to be the most significant challenges they face today and are seeking your help for?
Russ Clark: Difficulty getting to and from VA appointment or other health appointments. The nearest VA clinics are in Hillsboro, SE Portland or Vancouver. Many of our veterans are older and less confident driving in densely urbanized areas. Additionally, many veterans have no relatives of friends living near to them who might provide transportation assistance.
While we do have CC Rider offers very limited transportation opportunities for veterans. I receive calls monthly from veterans or their spouses seeking transportation to appointments; unfortunately, I have to tell them the only options they have are either CC Rider or DAV van (coming out of Astoria). DAV van required minimum of four days advanced notice and does not accommodate wheel chair bound patients. CC Rider provides transportation once a week, but requires all appointments to be arranged between 10AM and 2 PM (almost impossible for VA to arrange). Simply said veteran transportation in our county is nearly nonexistent.
The Chronicle: We understand that post-traumatic stress disorder has been an ongoing challenge for veterans. Briefly explain what the is and how it impacts veterans.
Clark: PSTD is classified as an anxiety disorder that can that can manifest in variety of symptoms to include anger, deep depression, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, hyper vigilance, sleep problems , social impairment and many more symptoms. Every individual’s impact is unique, no persons brain works alike. Some veterans have very mild symptoms that may rarely manifest, others veterans have very severe symptoms that far too often manifest in severe depression, isolation, loss of interest in social interactions and suicide attempts. The thing to remember is PTSD is a response to traumatic events and each person trauma is unique.
The Chronicle: Are there adequate services available for local veterans, or are more and easier-accessible services needed? If so, what services and needed?
Clark: No. We need transportation assets, availability to low income housing for our homeless veterans, adequate availability of local medical care, availability to dental care and more mental health providers.
The Chronicle: Do you find that veterans are often forgotten and that state and federal service and funding priorities for service men and women are challenged by budget reductions?
Clark: No and yes. I don’t think we are forgotten especially during an election year. We are a soft spot for the vast majority of our nation; however, often after the election is over, veteran issues seem to fade away from our elected officials minds. State and federal funding issues have been more favorable in recent years.
The challenge for VA honestly is obtaining and retaining qualified medical professionals. VA simply cannot compete the outside market; resulting in significant staff turnover at our hospitals and clinics. The Mission Act has helped veterans move more of their care to the community; however, in more rural areas there is a hug lack of medical providers. Look at Columbia county – no hospital, local clinics may not accept VA clients and we have very limited mental health capabilities. We are not even classified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a rural county.
The Chronicle: What do you find is the most positive outcome from your work with the local veterans?
Clark: Any time I can assist a veteran, surviving spouse or child of a veteran and help lift them out of a state despair and into a better state of mind, body and spirit; those are the times that provide me great satisfaction. When you able help a veteran that has been struggling for years to deal with his or her military trauma, then you see the positive transformation in his or her life occur. It is very uplifting.
I see my veterans not strangers needing assistance; I see them as brothers and sisters who, like me, have sacrificed their youth and their bodies in support of this nation.They have never asked for or demanded anything other than what they were promised from their government – the wounds they received whether physical or mental would be care for by their nation. Our veterans deserve all that is due to them and more.My job is to help them achieve what they have earned.
The Chronicle: How many veterans are you serving currently?
Clark: I represent about 2,500 of the approximately 5,700 in our county.
During the COVID 19 pandemic, Clark has been meeting with veterans by appointment only.
Clark can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at 503-366- 6580. The Columbia County Veterans Services Office is located at 125 N 17th Street in St Helens.