The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks welcomed the public to its first VA Benefits Awareness Day and Car Show Saturday to raise awareness for veteran health care and benefits in the NWA area.

The goal of this event was to educate the community about everything the organization offers for veterans, said Wanda Shull, public affairs officer for Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks. Her team wanted to have a car show to draw the public to something family friendly while still raising awareness for the healthcare and benefits veterans can claim, Shull said.

The benefit had live music, a variety of old cars and 20 informational booths.

The beauty of the Veterans Health Care System’s Fayetteville campus made it an inviting place to hold the event, Shull said.

“We’re a large healthcare system that tries to do a lot of great things for veterans in return for the service they’ve done for us,” Shull said.

These services include residential care for veterans who cannot live alone, mental health programs that provide consultation and treatment and audiology care for veterans with hearing and balance disorders, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Unlike the Health Care Center, Shull said she thinks it is unfortunate there is not a local benefits office for veterans. Employees of the benefits office in Little Rock were at the show to answer any questions veterans might have regarding benefits claims, she said.

“It’s surprising how many veterans don’t truly understand the benefits they’ve earned and are rightfully theirs,” said Jay Mergenschroer, supervisory veterans service representative for the Veterans Benefits Administration in Little Rock.

Veterans are eligible for tax-free monetary benefits for disability compensation and home loans through Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance, a life insurance program with coverage that can be extended for two years, according to VA Benefits and Health Care.

The Veterans Administration provides benefits other than healthcare, such as home loans and life insurance, Mergenschroer said. Events like car shows are great opportunities to get veterans in the community involved, Mergenschroer said. 

Mergenschroer took an application from a Vietnam War veteran at the car show who had been paying for medical treatment for his diabetes for over 25 years, he said. The veteran didn’t realize the VA would have given it free to him all along.

Attending events like the car show serves as an opportunity for veterans to give back to other veterans, Mergebschroer said.  Mergenschroer thinks that there is no mission more noble than taking care of his veteran brothers and sisters, he said. 

Another booth at the event was Sheep Dog Impact Assistance Research, a national nonprofit. Sheep Dog Impact Assistance Research is a program to aid veterans through disaster relief programs and outdoor excursions, said Cortney Wells, a SDIA representative.

Sheep Dog Impact Assistance Research is an organization made up of veterans from the nation's military, fire and rescue, EMS and law enforcement. The goal of this organization is for veterans to have activities that help them “re-engage” in life, according to the Sheep Dog Impact Assistance Research website.

Their two main programs are Disaster Relief Missions, where they send out members to do hurricane, flooding or tornado relief, and their Outdoor Adventure program, where they take Veterans out to do physically challenging activities allowing them to work in teams, Wells said.

“You don’t know how therapeutic it is as a service member to go out and give back to your community, it helps us at the same time we’re helping other people,” Wells said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and a confidential crisis chat at Veterans Crisis Line.

Raegan Holland is a staff reporter for The Arkansas Traveler.

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