Roughly 12 percent of Thurston County’s population — 32,348 people — are veterans.
Each year, thousands of military personnel transition out of military service at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. This year, that number is estimated to be 6,215. Of those people, about 1,000 will retire, and 600 will live in Thurston County. Next year, about 5,000 military personnel will transition out of service at JBLM.
For hundreds of those leaving the service, it will be hard to adapt. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 27 percent of veterans indicated that they had difficulty transitioning from military to civilian life. That number increases to 44 percent for veterans who served after the 9/11 terror attacks. Factors that affect how difficult the transition will be include the individual’s rank, education level and marital status, and whether he or she suffered a service-related injury or emotional trauma.
For some, transitioning out of the military can lead to homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness and chronic health problems.
If you are one of these veterans, or if you know a vet who is struggling, there are resources and services available locally that can provide much-needed support.
Thurston County Veterans’ Assistance Fund provides eligible veterans and their families assistance with services and resources, including past due rent or mortgage, first month’s rent, referral services, and limited food and utility assistance. Call 360-867-2625 or go to co.thurston.wa.us/health/ssveteran/index.html for eligibility criteria.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System provides community housing, health care and outreach services. To access these services, call 425-203-7200.
The Veterans Housing Options Group meets locally on Mondays (excluding holidays) from 1-2 p.m. at Catholic Community Services’ Drexel House, 604 Devoe St. SE, Olympia. This group serves veterans who are homeless or who are at high risk for homelessness. Representatives from VA Puget Sound, the state Department of Veterans Affairs, Thurston County Veterans Assistance Fund, WorkSource Thurston County, Supportive Services for Veteran Families and Catholic Community Services attend the options group to link veterans to housing, jobs, training and health care.
Catholic Community Services provides support services for veteran families. For more information on its services, call 253-471-5340.
The state Department of Veterans Affairs services include claims assistance, counseling, education and training, employment services, housing resources, homeless services and transitional housing. In addition, their Veterans Innovations Program provides emergency assistance to current operations veterans, including Washington National Guard/Reserve veterans who are experiencing financial hardship.
The Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project helps create a path for veterans to reintegrate into the workforce and earn a living. To access one or many of these services, call 800-562-2308 or go to dva.wa.gov.
Lacey Veteran Services Office provides counseling services for active duty military members, veterans and their families. These services are available by appointment Tuesdays through Thursdays. To get connected with a counselor at the Lacey Community Access Point, call either the Tacoma Vet Center at 253-565-7038 or the Federal Way Vet Center at 253-838-3090.
WorkSource Thurston County provides job search assistance through several programs. For more information, contact the Veteran Employment Specialist, Disabled Veterans Case Manager at 360-570-6982 or 360-740-6884.
To find out about other community resources, call 2-1-1, or access the Thurston County Veterans’ Resource Guide at co.thurston.wa.us/health/ssveteran/index.html.
If you are a veteran, I thank you for your service and your sacrifice. And if you are one of those veterans who is struggling, please know that the services listed above can make a real difference in your life. I encourage you to reach out for support.
Dr. Rachel C. Wood is the health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org, co.thurston.wa.us/health, @ThurstonHealth on Twitter or facebook.com/ThurstonHealth.