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Survey: Health care tops list of needs for vets in Whatcom County

Member of the American Legion Post 7 rifle squad Keith Stull, who served in the Navy, looks around during the American Legion Ceremony on Nov. 11, 2014, at Bellingham City Hall. A survey conducted in 2016 asked Whatcom County veterans about their needs in an effort to improve services.
Member of the American Legion Post 7 rifle squad Keith Stull, who served in the Navy, looks around during the American Legion Ceremony on Nov. 11, 2014, at Bellingham City Hall. A survey conducted in 2016 asked Whatcom County veterans about their needs in an effort to improve services. The Bellingham Herald

Veterans said physical and mental health care were among their top needs in Whatcom County.

Third on the list was employment services, according to a survey of at least 313 veterans conducted earlier in 2016 by Western Washington University and Whatcom County Health Department.

The results were discussed March 22 during the Whatcom County Veterans Summit at the university. More than 60 people attended.

The survey and summit were part of the effort to improve services and build better connections for veterans and their families.

“We had an idea what those needs might be but wanted to gather more information,” said Ann Beck, assistant director of Veteran Services at WWU, of the survey.

Summit participants broke into groups to discuss themes revealed by the survey, including housing needs, engaging with veterans, and improving communication among veterans and providers in the community.

Beck said that providers have been asking, for a while, how to reach veterans in the community.

“We know where there are pockets of veterans and which organizations are able to reach out to them, but there are still many who aren’t connected with any providers or veteran organizations that we want to reach,” she said, adding it was “reaffirming to know that veterans want to connect with each other but don’t always feel there is an easy way to do it.”

Survey results showed:

▪ The oldest veteran to respond was 94, the youngest 23.

▪ Most of them, about 42 percent, served in the military from 2001 to present. The other largest group, 26 percent, served from 1961-1975.

▪ About 54 percent used Facebook while 25 percent used no social media.

▪ Physical health care was the primary need at nearly 26 percent, followed by mental health care at 22 percent and employment services at 14 percent. A category called “other” totaled 19 percent and those needs included housing aid, legal and food services, and help with substance abuse.

▪ Nearly half said they weren’t using services because they didn’t need them, while 19 percent said they didn’t think they qualified, and 18 percent said they didn’t know how to access services.

▪ About 59 percent were connected to other veterans in Whatcom County, but 40 percent weren’t.

Those at the summit also talked about how vets connect, which varied by age.

“Older service eras such as Vietnam preferred having a social hall to connect and check in with such as the American Legion, whereas many from the post-9/11 era are more interested in meeting up to engage in an activity whether it is hiking, running or volunteering,” Beck said.

“Much of the discussion was also focused on having an online presence to draw in younger veterans who are new to the area,” she added. “Part of the dialogue around the survey results was about finding ways to bridge those differences between older and younger veterans.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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