New veterans support group provides socialization and education

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, May 9, 2014

BELOIT—Veterans asked questions, shared concerns and socialized over coffee and cookies during Wednesday's monthly veterans' support group meeting at Grinnell Hall Senior Center.

A Korean vet was curious about military funeral and burial benefits.

A Vietnam War vet wanted to know if news reports about the backlog for health care for veterans were true.

Another asked how Obamacare would affect Veterans Administration health care.

The three were among eight veterans attending the new monthly vets group that held its inaugural gathering April 2.

“The group is for veteran socialization and support as well as for educational purposes on issues affecting veterans,” said Andrew Heitman, facilitator.

Grinnell Hall Coordinator Paula Schutt wanted to get more in touch with veterans in town and get back to the original purpose of the building to honor vets. The Bluff Street facility has a room set aside for use by veterans' organizations after Emma H. Grinnell willed $100,000 in April 1936 to build a memorial hall for patriotic organizations in memory of her husband William H. Grinnell.

Schutt in October established a Vets Coffee . Although there was some interest, it never really took off because the group didn't have clear leadership.

“The men just got together,” she said.

Then Heitman, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, visited Grinnell Hall and explained he spoke to veterans' groups and was interested in leading such a group in Beloit. That led Schutt to revamp Vets Coffee.

“I now had someone familiar with vets issues and to lead the group,” she said.

Heitman, who is a social worker at the Madison Vet Center, agreed the camaraderie the group shares is important.

“We all have served and can all be a resource to another for assistance,” he said.

Veterans in the group represent all four branches of the military—Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force--and served during a wide range of service periods, including World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraqi Freedom, Heitman said.

Bruce Hollenbeck, 71, Beloit, who served in telecommunications in the Army security agency from 1962-65, said the group "opens doors to issues that interest all vets" and hopes to find additional resources outside of Rock County.

Such a group is important because of the breadth of issues--primarily unemployment and underemployment--faced by veterans today, Heitman said.

“The folks doing the worst with mental health are the unemployed veterans,” he said.

“But they do have the education (GI) Bill benefits for education,” Hollenbeck said.

“Numerous veteran issues could be brought up and addressed such as VA health and every other issue that pertains to veterans,'' he said.

Heitman said the Madison Vet Center provides no-cost, confidential counseling services to combat theater veterans and their families.

“Vet Center counselors conduct other support and socialization groups in several other south-central Wisconsin counties as well,” he said.

Schutt is confident that with the proper leadership more vets will attend.

Future meetings will feature educational and resources handouts as well as guest speakers, including a representative from the Rock County Veterans Services Office that advocates for and provides assistance to all veterans of the U.S. Armed Services, their dependents and survivors.

“With that,” she said, “it's going to grow.”

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