Gerald Andrews left the Pine Bluff Convention Center with what he described as a wealth of information for not only other veterans, but also himself after attending the Veterans Benefits Fair.
Nearly 70 veterans and their families attended the event on Saturday.
“I think the activities that we had today are one of the most comprehensive events as far as veterans are concerned,” Andrews, who is a Korean War Veteran, said. “We had several organizations here today.”
Andrews, 87, joined the United States Army when he was 22. He says even as a senior veteran, he found out important information concerning his eligibility that he didn’t know prior to attending the fair.
“This was a very successful event,” he said. “A lot of veterans just didn’t know where to go, what to do, or who to see. This is where a person could come and get immediate response rather than waiting long periods of time.”
The Veterans Benefits Fair was a joint effort by the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, the cities of Pine Bluff and White Hall, Jefferson County and the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs. The joint fair was the first of its kind in Pine Bluff.
“There are some vets that have family members that don’t even know what kind of benefits that they can have and we have widowers that don’t know what kind of benefits they can receive,” said Lanette Frazier, event organizer and administrative assistant to Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington.
“So, we wanted to make sure everyone was serviced here, even women because there are a lot of women vets that don’t know of some of the benefits that they have.”
Nola Harrison, whose husband is a veteran, came to the fair on his behalf. Her hope was to get assistance for him, which she says she was successful in doing.
“I think this was very beneficial to the community,” Harrison said. “It shows that they (Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs) are reaching out to everyone. They are coming out to help instead of having everyone just running up there — they are coming to the community. It’s a good thing for the community itself to see their interest.”
About 40 vendors, including but not limited to Humana Insurance, Century 21, Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, Park University, American Legion and Holcomb Funeral set up booths for those in attendance to speak one-on-one to representatives. From healthcare benefits to compensation, consultants were on hand helping veterans and their families get the assistance they need.
“We got together to bring all the benefits to Pine Bluff, so that Veterans could come in and see what’s local as well as what federal and state benefits are available,” said Gina Chandler, acting deputy of Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We were encouraging them to sign-up for healthcare and see whatever benefits they had available with the VA that they may not be aware of.”
Approximately 223, 000 veterans live in Arkansas, with about 6,000 in Jefferson County, according to Chandler. She says with the perception of the VA Hospital being negative to some, she wanted to make sure veterans received the knowledge necessary to better assist them with their needs.
“We had a Vietnam Veteran here that had never filed a claim before, so we were able to assist him with that and we helped widows that never knew they could apply for benefits on behalf of their spouse,” she said.
Even though the collaborative event was a first for Jefferson County, Chandler says plans are already in the works to host another fair in the spring with different vendors. In addition to hosting more fairs, Frazier hopes that the fair is just a start for veterans services in the county.
“My wish is that Jefferson County, the City of Pine Bluff and White Hall come together to form some kind of veterans council that can help service our veterans here, because we really need help and we have a lot of veterans,” said Frazier, who is also a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve.
“And so that way we can not only hear what they need help with, but also give them the place to come together and learn. I saw people here that I didn’t even know were veterans, but I speak to them all of the time in the community.