By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer –
The Ridgecrest Veterans Advisory Council (RVAC) invites veterans to attend the quarterly Veterans Collaborative Meeting on January 19 at 10 am at Calvary Chapel, 210 E. Springer Avenue in Ridgecrest. There will also be meetings on the first flex Friday of the month in March and June. This year’s Stand Down will be in September.
Representatives from the Veterans Administration (VA) are bringing their services and will have sign-up sheets at the entrance to the event. At this time, nine services are being offered. Carol Coy, Council Secretary, says, “These are the most services they’ve ever brought.” A quick rundown of the services is Outreach/Patient Advocate, Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) and the Homeless Veterans Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program, two nurses with flu and COVID vaccines from the Mobile Medical Unit (MMU), Care in the Community via the internet, Telehealth, Mental Health, Community Engagement & Reintegration Services (CERS), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and VA Supporting Housing (VASH).
Carol and her husband, Nick Coy, Director of RVAC, are hard at work attempting to bring the ID Machine to the meeting. Carol tells us, “They take your picture, collect your information, and mail it to you. You have to have it in order to get into any of the doctors at the VA, or if you want to use the hospital, you have to have an ID card. If they don’t bring the machine to Ridgecrest, you have to go to one of the major hospitals to get it. Years ago, they would do it at Lancaster/Palmdale; now they don’t. You have to go to a major hospital to get the ID card.”
The Coys are grateful that their current VA contacts are very dedicated and more helpful than they have ever been since they began this work in 2012. Robert Merchant, Alan Trinh, and Jorge Merlos are wonderful, with more support than Ridgecrest has ever seen. Carol says they answer the phone on weekends, and she once had a conversation at nine at night.
Right now, the biggest need is housing homeless veterans. In 2023, they assisted 15 homeless veterans. In February 2022, they had eight homeless veterans all at once. Already in January, they have two. To qualify for housing, one must have an honorable discharge. For medical benefits, a veteran needs to have served for 120 days.
Veterans reach out to RVAC, who interview them and get their basic information. From there, they turn it over to the VA. The Coys follow up and stay on top of it “because the VA is extremely busy with all of the LA County veterans.” She adds, “We have resources. If a veteran comes to us and says they are about to get their utilities shut off, if they can produce a bill, we can take that and pay their utilities. We do everything and anything to help a veteran. From referring people to paying bills to getting their benefits.”
RVAC is very grateful to AJ, who owns A Nights Inn in Ridgecrest. He houses the veterans and is flexible while they await their new home. They are also grateful to the community of Ridgecrest. Carol tells us, “The guys from West LA VA come up, and they can’t believe the support that comes from Ridgecrest. You know, if we need some money, we put the word out; it always materializes. They said that wouldn’t happen in LA.” She adds, “The community pulls through for each other. That is what Ridgecrest does. ”Folks even answered the call for funds during Christmastime.
The RVAC is encouraging active military to register with the VA now. “If you know you’re getting out in 2025, you can register with the VA now and have your services ready for you when you are discharged.” Contrary to the thought that they have all their services on Base, they don’t have a hospital.
Local veterans are also benefiting from a $4,000 grant obtained by the Elks Lodge. The Elks purchased all sorts of useful items. “When the veterans move out of the hotel into an apartment, they can have a bed. they can have things they need.”
In 2012, then-Mayor Ron Carter “asked for some help getting information for his grandsons who were coming back from overseas. They needed to find out what their benefits would be. He had no idea,” Nick says. “So he called the VFW, who called me. He called around to some other organizations and got people to come in and have a sit-down, roundtable discussion. We decided that in order to find out what was really needed here, we would have a stand down where we bring in resources and find out who wanted what. That led to a meeting with Kevin McCarthy.” McCarthy went on to start Veterans Choice, now Care in the Community. This enables veterans to use local doctors and hospitals with their VA medical funds.
As a young man, Nick volunteered for the Navy and spent four years on the USS Hancock. He still carries memories of difficulties getting established in civilian life. “It was hard to find work when I got out. It is still hard. A lot of vets have trouble. They come out of the service. Now they have a lot more training in different fields. But a lot of them come out and have a hard time finding work. They don’t really fit into the things they have learned. For whatever reason, it doesn’t fit the profile. We don’t have good employment resources here in town anymore. We used to have the unemployment office with a Veterans Officer with the sole purpose of dealing with veterans and finding them jobs. We have an unemployment office in town called America’s Job Center that helps veterans find jobs, but we do not have a veterans service officer who fills out claims or checks on claims. For that, you have to go to Bakersfield or to Lancaster. It makes it very difficult when you have a veteran with no transportation. But they do come to the collaborative each quarter when we have it.”
If you are a veteran in need of services and need some help, the RVAC is here for you. Call Carol at 760 608-9251 or Nick at 760-608-1484. If you would like to contribute a tax-deductible donation, you can do that at Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union or mail a check to P.O. Box 805.