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October 24, 2019

Trone, community gather to examine issues facing veterans

Credit: The Frederick News-Post, Steve Bohnel

The community room at Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ in Frederick bustled with activity Thursday afternoon as hundreds of people gathered. Their mission: connecting veterans to the resources they need in Frederick County and the rest of the region.

U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) hosted the workshop panel, alongside Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) and Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.). Antoine Waller, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Baltimore office, and Tim Cooke, director at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in West Virginia, also participated in the panel, where they fielded questions from a crowd of more than 200 people about issues facing the veterans community.

After Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D) delivered a brief introduction — noting that the county is home to about 17,000 veterans — the three members of Congress introduced themselves before taking questions from the crowd about current issues facing veterans in the region.

Those issues covered a wide range: helping connect veterans to benefits, improving services once they enter a certain facility, decreasing the number of veteran suicides and looking at nontraditional health treatment for that population, among others.


Fred Schumacher, chairman of the county’s Veterans Advisory Council, said before the event that it helped raise awareness and shows there are many resources in the region to help local veterans.


“If you know about it, there are organizations that will step in and assist,” Schumacher said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do with the Veterans Advisory Council, connect the dots. … With each passing event such as this, we find out there’s more and more resources available.”


One of those vendors at Sunday’s event was the Veterans Center in Martinsburg. Greg Edens, the veterans outreach program specialist there, said his office sends a counselor to Frederick several times a week to help them with benefits and other issues.


Having such face-to-face conversations is important, Edens said.


“Word-of-mouth is usually one of the most trusted forms of communication for those who served. … It’s really a no-red-tape approach,” he said.


Trone agreed with that idea.


“The mission is to get your people into the community,” Trone said before the workshop. “And if you’re in the community, people really want to talk one on one. They don’t want to deal with a computer, they don’t want to deal with a survey. They want to get off the internet and talk to somebody and explain their unique set of problems.”


Trone noted that mental health, the opioid crisis and connecting veterans to their benefits are a few issues that population faces.

“Folks are confused and challenged by the myriad of rules in the veterans area, so we’re here to help cut through those,” Trone said of that last issue.


No matter what veterans need, Crenshaw, who served as a Navy SEAL, said before the panel that helping veterans find their “sense of purpose” after their military service is vital.


“There’s thousands and thousands of veterans organizations and nonprofits that do this stuff,” Crenshaw said. “The hard part for veterans is sifting through that. You get out, you’re not sure what you want to do, who you want to be. … That’s really hard on the transition [after service].”


Schumacher hopes the county’s Veterans Advisory Council helps solve that.


“The resources are there. We just are trying to get a central point to show them all,” he said.