State Veterans Office Balances Needs Of Wide Range Of Ages

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(Host) Vermont has one of the oldest veterans’ populations of any state in the country.

Because of these demographics, the state office on Veterans Affairs says it’s trying to balance the needs of veterans who served in World War II and the Korean War with the concerns of younger veterans.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports

(Kinzel) According to the Vermont Department on Veterans Affairs, there are roughly 52,000 veterans currently living in the state.

Clayton Clark is the director of the department.  He says it’s important to realize that Vermont’s veteran population includes people who fought in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf wars and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Clark) "The veteran population in Vermont is an older population. About two-thirds of the veterans are over the age of 60. And so the thing that’s challenging when you’re talking about the needs of veterans is that the need of a veteran who is 23 years old and just got out of the military last week is going to be slightly different than the needs of the veteran who got out 60 years ago. … And we need to make sure that we’re assisting all of them."

(Kinzel) Shanna Lee Shushereba is a veteran of the Iraq War and serves on the Governor’s Veterans Advisory Council.  She’s founded programs at UVM to help veterans adapt to life on campus. It’s a transition that she says can be very difficult for some people.

(Shushereba) "It’s often that veterans need a place to turn, and particularly when they come back and attempt to go to school and take care of that. Because everyone says as we get out of the military, particularly active duty, says, ‘Go ahead and enroll in school and get your college taken care of.’ So that way it puts us ahead of the game when it comes time for job seeking. Which is a great idea but that support structure absolutely must be in place."

(Kinzel) Veterans Affairs director Clark says he’s noticed that public attitudes about veterans have changed over the years. 

During the Vietnam War, he says, many soldiers came home to an ungrateful nation. But now, he says, even opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan make it clear that they support the Vermont troops who have been sent overseas.

(Clark) "I’ve seen that even at the Legislature at the Statehouse, where obviously you have not all of the legislators have supported the war because they’ve introduced legislation on the National Guard and other things. But every one of those folks when they see me there will come up and tell me that they’re supportive of veterans and veterans issues. So I think that’s a huge change that’s been very positive for our veterans."

(Kinzel) Clark is encouraging all veterans to sign up for health care services through the Veterans Administration because he says it’s very hard to anticipate when these benefits may be needed.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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