On November 11, 2010, our nation celebrates Veterans Day. There are many local Veterans Day events honoring our veterans and their families in Harris County, including a parade in downtown Houston. Perhaps even more important than these special events are the ongoing efforts to improve the lives of returning veterans and their families. Following is an overview of programs initiated to serve our veterans.
The Harris County Veterans Services Office
While members of Harris County Commissioners Court have staff specializing in veterans affairs, the official Harris County Veterans Services Office http://www.vso.hctx.net/ assists veterans and their dependents with applications for compensation, pensions, hospitalization and other benefits through an intake process that includes information and referral services. The Veterans Services Office works with the U.S.
Department of Veterans Affairs and other nationally chartered veterans service organizations to ensure that veterans, their dependents and survivors receive their richly deserved entitlements. Services offered by the Veterans Services Office include the following:
Informing veterans, dependents and survivors of their eligibility for benefits payable through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs;
Assisting in obtaining addresses for benefits payable through Social Security Administration or other government agencies;
Completing forms for benefits that may be payable through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs;
Completing forms and notifying the appropriate branch of service of the death of a veteran retiree;
Informing survivors of procedures regarding military benefits;
Obtaining supporting documents for claims by veterans, their spouses and dependents; and
Recording original discharges (DD214) with the Harris County Clerk’s office.
The Veterans Services Office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. An appointment is necessary, which you can schedule by calling 281-876-6600. The office is located at 9418 Jensen Drive, Suite 200.
In 2007, Harris County and the City of Houston convened the first joint meeting of the Returning Veterans Initiative (RVI). The purpose of RVI was to find ways to better serve veterans returning from the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom military initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there are no longer official meetings of the initial RVI work group, there have been many outgrowth efforts. Here are just a few of those:
Veterans Resource Directory
Navigating the Road for Services to Returning Veterans is a 62-page directory of services for veterans and their families in Harris County, prepared and continually updated by the RVI initiative. It covers federal, state, county, city, nonprofit, and faith-based resources for veterans and their families. While a limited number of printed copies are distributed primarily through United Way of Greater Houston under a grant from the TRIAD (Texas Resources for Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment) Fund, the best way to access the directory’s latest version is on the RVI website.
Veteran Mental Health
A special need of veterans who are returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan is for behavioral health services to address mental health and substance abuse issues that compromise a veteran’s successful return to family and community. Therefore, in October 2008, RVI leadership asked Mental Health America of Greater Houston to lead an initiative to address that problem. The result was a major initiative that produced a report entitled: "Veterans Behavioral Health Initiative: A Community Collaboration."
In August 2010, a special initiative began that uses public service announcements to educate the community on these issues and to reach veterans and their families. The goal is to remove the stigma associated with asking for help. Locally, the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County also addresses veterans’ mental health needs. At the state level, the Texas Department of State Health Services has produced a report entitled "Behavioral Health Services for Returning Veterans and Their Families: Services, Gaps, and Recommendations."
At times, veterans find themselves facing legal problems that might take them through the Harris County court system.
Thanks to an initiative called the Harris County Veterans’ Court, the first of its kind in Texas, there is a program to address concerns of Harris County offenders who are honorably discharged veterans or current members of the United States armed forces, including members of the reserves.
The Veterans’ Court is presided over by 228th District Judge Marc Carter and began in December 2009.
Harris County’s Veterans’ Court has a distinctive component, a special Jail Diversion Team, dedicated to finding alternatives to the traditional judicial system for veterans and service members. Housed in the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center and made up of case managers, a court liaison and a forensic psychiatrist, the team will make reports to the court, helping to monitor offenders’ progress.
Contact information for Houston – Harris County Returning Veteran Initiative While contact information for these and so many other initiatives and services is in the Veterans Resources Directory, specific questions on RVI can be addressed to the City of Houston’s Office of Veterans Affairs. http://www.houstontx.gov/vetaffairs/
Veterans needing personal assistance also can contact the Harris County Veterans Service Office http://www.vso.hctx.net/ or dial 2-1-1 to reach United Way of Greater Houston’s 2-1-1 Texas/United Way Helpline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in all languages.
Houston Bar Association Honors Veterans with Special Legal Clinic
The Houston Bar Association (HBA) established its Veterans’ Legal Initiative in 2008, providing legal services through weekly legal clinics at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, monthly clinics at the US VETS at Midtown Terrace, quarterly legal clinics at the DeGeorge at Union Station, and twice yearly Saturday legal clinics.
In honor of Veterans Day 2010, the HBA will hold a legal clinic for veterans and spouses of deceased veterans at American Legion Post 560 at 3720 Alba Road on Saturday, November 13, from 9:00 a.m. to noon.