Over in a quiet, roomy office upstairs at the Plumas County Veterans Service Office in the courthouse annex near Feather River College, Jimmy LaPlante and his assistant Kyle Short are very busy advocating for veterans and helping service personnel access a wide range of benefits and programs that can make life a great deal easier.
County employees and veterans themselves, Veterans Service Officer LaPlante and Veterans Service Representative Short take great pride in their jobs. The ringing phones are proof there is plenty of need for the expertise that they provide.
“There are a lot of veterans who don’t want to ask for anything,” LaPlante said, hanging up the phone after fielding another call. “They think others may be worse off than they are and need help more, so they don’t want to come in to find out about the services that are offered. I want them all to know — hey, if you’ve served, you’ve earned benefits. So at the very minimum, you should contact our office to find out what kind of benefits you may be eligible to receive.”
LaPlante coordinates all veterans’ program services in the region. He is accredited by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Together with Short, he does a lot of outreach countywide to the 2,400 veterans who call Plumas County home.
Veterans make up about 10 percent of the county’s total population, according to LaPlante, and he has an opening for another vet’s rep, part-time.
A wide range of benefits, services
Vets aren’t the only ones eligible for help from the Office of Veterans Services — dependents, including surviving spouses, children or parents of deceased vets, are also eligible to receive services and assistance. So are active-duty military members and reservists or National Guardsmen.
The list of services the office provides to vets and their families is extensive.
LaPlante added that his office helps vets with claims for benefits and services both through the V.A. and with the state of California. All vets and their families are encouraged to reach out for information about:
– Claims and application assistance for compensation, disability, pension and healthcare benefits. (Note: there is no time limit by which one has to apply for compensation or a pension.)
– Education, training, vocational rehabilitation and employment services. (Note: there is generally a 10-year time limit from when the vet was last released from active duty to use the education benefit.)
– V.A. home loans help, including refinancing and special grants for home adaptation to accommodate disabilities.
– Assisted-living services and residential care for elderly service persons, including independent living, intermediate nursing care or skilled nursing provided at California veterans’ homes as near as Redding or Yountville and as distant as Chula Vista or Barstow. Fees are based upon income and spouses are welcome.
– Life insurance, assistance to veterans’ dependents and survivors, and burial-related services such as headstones or markers, honor ceremonies, Presidential Memorial Certificates, burial flags and possible burial in any national cemetery. (Note: time limits for applications may apply; please contact the vet’s rep staff as soon as possible following the death of a veteran.)
Job-search and placement services
In a rural area like Plumas County, finding a good job can prove difficult. The V.A. program supports job-search assistance, career exploration, vocational evaluations and training, as well as education, training and supportive rehabilitation services — especially for those with service-connected disabilities.
“We help vets get jobs right out of this office,” LaPlante said.
Navigating the disability process
Many vets have no idea what, if any, benefits they may qualify for, LaPlante explained.
So his office provides help with important and often-overwhelming things like V.A. disability claim applications. It can make a big difference in someone’s life.
Veterans who are evaluated and determined to be 10-percent disabled (or more) may receive a monthly monetary benefit for their service-connected disability.
“If you are a California vet who is determined to be even zero-percent disabled, meaning you do have a service-connected disability, but it is not severe enough to warrant receiving a monthly V.A. benefit check,” LaPlante said, “you and your dependents may be eligible for a tuition waiver to attend college free. Please come and talk to us about this — we can help you find out about this and many other benefits.”
Pension application help
Help with pension applications is available for those who served on active duty during specific time periods AND have a limited income; are aged 65 or older; or are under age 65, but are permanently disabled and receiving Social Security Disability benefits. The time periods for eligibility cover World Wars I and II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam and the Gulf War.
“We feel it’s really important for any veteran to come and talk to us about the wide range of services they may be eligible for — many or most of which are totally free,” LaPlante said. “And if a vet served and was injured, either physically or mentally, all of those services are free.”
Healthcare and medical access
Additional examples of valuable benefits that can make an impact in the lives of veterans and their families include things like help with applying for V.A. health care coverage.
LaPlante and Short provide these kinds of services every day and cite a common example of a local service person who didn’t realize he was eligible for health benefits from the Veterans Administration. After the county veterans services staff helped with his V.A. application, the veteran was approved and now has a primary care physician plus affordable prescription medication.
“Once we got the application approved, and the prescription copay went from $400 for one medicine to $9 for this particular veteran, heck yeah the vet signed up,” LaPlante explained.
Free rides — Reno V.A. Med Center
Signing up for health care through the Veterans Administration is a big milestone for someone who has not previously had access to this benefit. But another hurdle may simply be an inability to get to the medical center — for any number of reasons.
Short coordinates the free shuttle van service that leaves every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 a.m. to take vets to and from their various appointments at the Reno V.A. Medical Center.
The van is reserved on a first-come, first-served basis and departs from the upper parking lot of the Courthouse Annex at 270 County Hospital Road in Quincy off Highway 70 and Golden Eagle Avenue. Vets ride completely free of charge and the crew doesn’t return until the last veteran has concluded his or her medical appointment of the day.
Reservations are a must. Call Kyle Short at 283-6271.
The veteran volunteers who donate their time to drive the V.A. shuttle van include four former U.S. Army servicemen: John Gallagher and Mike Seekins of Meadow Valley; Bob Nunn of Graeagle; and Bill Whitcher of Quincy; plus former Navy man David Boynton, also of Quincy.
“This van is provided free to military veterans and it’s so important because we have vets who are unable to drive to the V.A. Medical Center because of their disabilities or health conditions,” LaPlante said.
He added that the V.A. pays for all the maintenance for the van, fuel and other expenses.
“All of our drivers are volunteers and they are vets themselves,” LaPlante said. “Sometimes, our drivers will put in 10-hour days and they do it gladly because they want to give something back to other vets.”
For information about any of the extensive services, programs and potential benefits available to U.S. veterans here in Plumas County, contact LaPlante at 283-6275, [email protected] or Short at 283-6271, [email protected] .