North County Veterans Office Provides Range Of Services
Veterans Agent Stephen Roy said he helps veteran find and file for the services they need.
Some veterans are without homes, others in need of medical care for themselves or their families. The elderly struggling with paperwork, the widow who needs to bury a spouse.
In North Berkshire, they go to the office of Veterans Agent Stephen Roy in City Hall seeking help and hope.
"I can't even begin to go into some of the stories I've heard come into my office," the soft-spoken Roy told the City Council on Tuesday night. Being able to find aid for these veterans, he said, has been the best part of his job. "The incredible feeling, the personal satisfaction I have ... I've had people in tears who needed help."
Roy, and volunteer Rebecca Litchfield, spoke to the council about their role in aiding veterans at the invitation of Councilor Marie Harpin.
For many, Roy's office is the "the last-case scenario," he said, "they have nowhere else to turn."
Roy is also the Northern Berkshire District veterans service agent through an agreement between the city and the towns of Adams, Clarksburg and Williamstown. He also lends a hand to veterans from towns without agents, such as Savoy, or anyone else.
He oversees funding through the district towns, 75 percent of which reimbursed by the state, and helps veterans apply for other funding. "We provide a lot of financial assistance to veterans who have no place to turn," said Roy.
Adding to the burden is the need for documentation to be precise and submitted in 10 days. That's difficult for some veterans who have mislaid or lost the necessary paperwork. Roy's office keeps thousands of documents for record keeping.
He also helps veterans and families file claims for Social Security Disability, with the state's Department of Veterans Services, for medical aid and housing, and for funeral services, or connects them with the people who can help, such as BerkshireWorks, for those seeking employment.
"I give them the best choice I can, the best suggestions I can," he said. "It's trying to help people put their lives back together."
Working with him are two volunteers, one of whom, Litchfield, has taken it upon herself to become certified as an advocate with the National Veterans Legal Service Program.
Litchfield described herself as the national connection to Roy's more local expertise. She regularly deals with Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, and travels to work on active litigation. She helps filing claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for disability and medical care for veterans and non-veterans.
"Our office is also authorized for Social Security claims," she said. "I've gotten about $1.2 million for the veterans and the families that have come into the office ... What Steve doesn't handle, I pick up."
In response to a question from Councilor Keith Bona, Roy said the most immediate needs are for closer medical care and housing. While the North Adams Regional Hospital and Brien Center both provide an array of physical and mental health services, they're not geared to the type of trauma that veterans may have to deal with.
Veterans from the latest conflicts are dealing with concussive brain injuries as well as posttraumatic stress disorder. Roy said he knew of one veteran who still has concrete and rebar fragments in his flesh from a blast.
The closest veterans hospital is in Leeds but many vets do not have the ability to get there, he said. When possible, he sends them to the clinic in Bennington, Vt., but its services are limited.
As for housing, he thought a facility similar to Turner House in Williamstown would be successful.
Councilors expressed appreciation with the work the office has been doing.
"I know several elderly people who have come into your office and the compassion and patience you show is amazing," said Councilor John Barrett III.
The presentation was enough to overcome some disagreements over the past few weeks, with Mayor Richard Alcombright agreeing with Barrett that the city could find some money in the budget to reimburse Litchfield as least for travel. President Michael Bloom joined with regular Robert Cardimino in calling for applause for the two.
"With Memorial Day just a week away, it's a timely message," said Bloom.
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