“Veterans Benefit Bonanza” set for March 9

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

“This isn’t just focused on the veteran,” Houston County Veterans Services officer Rob Thoen said. “This is also focused on the spouse, the kids, the caretakers.”

So when the Veterans Benefit Bonanza opens up in La Crosse, Wis. on Thursday, March 9, a lot of valuable information and contacts will be available for vets and family members. The venue is the Radisson Hotel, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.

That “bonanza” of information includes “everything from the spouse that has the veteran getting out of the service, looking for what’s around for that veteran and what they should do, to the kids  contemplating how to help the veteran move into assisted living or a nursing home,” Thoen reported. “For example, what is the end of life care that the VA  provides? What’s available at that point, and what’s available for the widow once the veteran dies?

“We had great success last year. We had about 350 veterans from four different states who attended. It was called the Veterans Benefit Expo last year. We’ve just changed the name.    

“We’ll have the VA (United States Department of Veterans Affairs) there, local agencies, community members that are looking to hire veterans, and more. So, this is kind of a job fair, benefit fair, and a community exposure period. This is meant to encompass all ages, all walks of life, all interests.

“We have it at kind of an offset unusual time. We go late, specifically to help those people who may be working, give them the opportunity to attend.

“When we started this, it was kind of the first event of its kind for our area. We focus on a more regional map instead of a La Crosse-specific thing. Instead of duplicating our efforts and energies, our idea is to pull one massive event together and make it as big as we can.

Sponsors include the City of La Crosse, La Crosse County, Gunderson Health System, the Tomah VA Medical Center, and Houston County, Thoen reported. There is abundant parking at the Radisson, with room for over 70 booths manned by participating organizations, he added. Over 60 of those were already spoken for weeks before the event.

“We’re getting interest from all over the place,” he concluded.

Other news for vets

Thoen also said that those who served at Camp Lejeune, N.C. between August of 1953 and December, 1987 should take note: the VA will now consider “Certain diseases associated with exposure to contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune as presumptive for service connection.”

That means that those who served at the facility for at least 30 days (cumulative) during that time frame will now be eligible for certain benefits. The program includes not only active duty members, but reserve and National Guard units. Eight “presumptive diseases” include adult leukemia,  aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease.

“Previously, these were treatment-only conditions,” Thoen said. “The VA would not grant service connection or monetary reimbursement for these conditions. They would only treat them at the VA for free. Now, if you were the service member, we can apply for a service-connected (disability) percentage based on these eight conditions.

“I understand that it’s a small subset, but it spans the better part of two generations,” he noted. “This has been a case that’s been on the books for along time waiting to happen, and they’ve finally resolved the conditions.

“I can start applying for veterans. They just need to come in and we can have a conversation about it.”