Most Viewed Stories
Agencies help meet challenges of becoming civilians
The Yuma Sun is taking a look at the Yuma Veterans Fund this week, which will provide grants to help Yuma organizations assist veterans. This story is one in a series titled Veterans In Need. To donate, visit www.AZFoundation.org/YumaVeterans, or call 539-5343.
For veterans, returning to civilian life after military service presents many new opportunities, but some major challenges as well, especially if they have grievous physical or mental wounds that will stay with them for life.
There are, however, several agencies in Yuma where veterans can get the help they need, such as Services Maximizing Independent Living and Empowerment, or S.M.I.L.E., and the Yuma Vet Center, both of which provide services and programs for veterans.
“What we are doing here is helping veterans in outreaching for their benefits, whether it be educational, medical or information about their service. It's about how to connect and come back to the civilian life,” said program coordinator Humberto “Bert” Rios. “That transition is sometimes very difficult.”
Located at 1931 S. Arizona Ave., S.M.I.L.E. is one of five independent living centers in the state that provide assistance and advocacy for people who are visually, hearing or mentally impaired or physically or developmentally disabled. It can be reached at 329-6681.
Rios, who served 15 years in the Marine Corps, said he specializes in helping veterans register and enroll with Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies, such as Social Security, that provide benefits to veterans and their families.
The government, Rios said, doesn't automatically grant veterans benefits and services, so they and their families must apply for them. If they don't, he added, they won't receive them.
As a disabled veteran himself, Rios said, after he was discharged he was surprised to learn he had to find out a lot of the information on his own about how to apply for his veterans benefits.
“When I got out, I did not know where to go or what I needed to do to get my benefits. We help many veterans here who do not know where to go, like I did years ago when I was discharged.”
For example, Rios said a lot of active duty personnel don't realize that they can go to Social Security and qualify for disability benefits for their combat injuries, even while still on active duty.
Rios said employment, education and housing are also major challenges for veterans, which are all matters the veteran can come to S.M.I.L.E. for assistance.
S.M.I.L.E., which is predominantly federally funded, does not charge veterans for its services. The agency does, however, accept some funding from other community agencies for referrals. As such, S.M.I.L.E. will be able to benefit from the newly created Yuma Veterans Fund, which will provide a source of funding dedicated to the needs of military veterans in Yuma County.
Rios said one of the ideas S.M.I.L.E. has discussed is establishing a program of financial assistance to veterans while they are waiting for their benefits to start.
Yuma Vet Center
Located at 1450 E. 16th St., Suite 103, the Yuma Vet Center has free counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, marriage and family issues, as well as individual and group therapy. The agency is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and can be reached at 271-8700.
“They are supportive counselings that help the veterans with any issues relating to their combat exposure,” said Renae Ogle, a licensed social worker and counseling therapist. “Sometimes there are marital problems. There can even be employment issues.
“When things don't go right in life and you can't figure out why, you can sometimes even start to have suicidal thoughts. So it is all to be supportive and help the vets readjust to coming back from war and getting on with their lives, solving the issues that have come up.”
Ogle said the Yuma Vet Center is strictly a counseling agency and does not provide any medical services. It does, however, refer veterans to other agencies that will be able to help them by providing services it can't.
“We have a pretty large client population now. I see five to six clients a day, and so does my colleague. We have about 150 enrolled now, maybe more.”
Ogle said since the Yuma Vet Center is also federally funded, it can't receive any money from the newly created Yuma Veterans Fund. But that doesn't mean the agency and the veterans it serves aren't going to benefit from it.
She explained the veterans will benefit from the fund indirectly because the Yuma Vet Center will be able to refer them to other agencies, ones that do get money from the fund, if the veteran needs a service that it doesn't provide.
“We would not be able to disperse any of that money, but we could certainly refer them to the agencies that do get it, and send them there.”
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.