Richard Lambert served 22 years in the Air Force.
That service left him with a couple of injuries that he wanted to pursue treatment options through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He also wanted to learn how to access services and find out more about the VA.
On Friday morning, Lambert was among several hundred veterans from as far away as Maryland, Georgia and Texas who gathered at the Goldsboro Event Center, on South Slocumb Street, for the second day of a two-day Veterans Claims Clinic.
During the first day, 297 veterans were seen. Within 30 minutes of its 8 a.m. opening Friday, the total number of veterans reached 406, and attendance was expected to reach upwards of more than 600 people before the day’s end.
The VA’s Veterans Service Center in Winston-Salem set up the event and brought in 16 representatives and several supervisors, said Kori Mabe, quality control team supervisor with the center.
In order to set up such an event, a letter is required from a state legislator, said Rep. Raymond Smith, a Democrat serving House District 21, which includes Wayne and Sampson counties.
Smith, an Air Force veteran, wrote the letter after receiving a request from Goldsboro High School classmate Bobby Williams, who is now a peer support specialist with the Durham VA office.
“You have people walking around today, on Friday, going about their business, happy-go-lucky, enjoying life because we do live in a free country but that freedom is not free,” Smith said. “The people who are here today who are suffering and who are in need of support and our help are here today because of the sacrifices that they made to give us the opportunity to walk around freely.
“That is why I am here. These are the people whose backs we ride on a daily basis, and I am so proud to be a veteran. I am so proud that I had the opportunity to help support the veterans this way.”
Along with the VA, there were representatives from the Social Security Administration, N.C Serve, USO and the Veterans Center, which is attached to the medical center and provides counseling and mental health treatment, Mabe said.
“It is a good collaborative type approach,” Lambert said. “They basically have something for every veteran. If you are coming in for VA disability, then they can talk to you about that. If you are coming in for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), they can talk to you about that. They can tell you about retreats they offer.
“One agency offers a free veterans retreat in Texas for people who have had PTSD and other traumas, chronic pain and so forth. It just offers a lot of great programs under one roof to kind of get people started on the VA route. Basically, there is something here for every veteran.”
It was a diverse crowd with all ages represented, Lambert said.
The event was a great service to the veterans, he said.
The VA ‘s reputation has taken some hits in recent years but what the public needs to understand is that it has a very large number of veterans to service with limited resources and manpower, Lambert said.
“But they are trying to evolve and take a different approach to doing business, and this is an example that they are taking a different approach,” he said.
Amy Smith, Wayne County Veterans Services officer, along with Brenda Dubose, Veterans Services director, coordinated the clinic.
Everything during the event was donated, including use of the Goldsboro Event Center, water, snacks and meals, she said.
The turnout was fantastic, Amy Smith said.
“We really rely on the generosity of Amy and people like her,” Mabe said. “The Bridge Church is donating the lunches for the veterans and the people who are volunteering. We can’t pay for anything — we’re federal.
“We can’t pay for a facility so we really rely on them to get a space for us and they do. They set it up for us and all we have to do is show up and do what we need to do, which is wonderful.”
The clinics are held across the state, Mabe said. This year, the focus is getting into rural communities to reach veterans who have not attended previous events or can’t get to the Winston-Salem office, she said.
There also is a focus on contacting local resources veterans might not know about, with the goal of making the clinic a one-stop shop, Mabe said.
Scott Posti, with the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Benefits Assistance Office, traveled from Washington, D.C., to observe the clinic.
“North Carolina is probably one of the best offices that we have at doing these sorts of events, which is why I am down here trying to learn more about it and see how it works,” said Posti, a former Marine who was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, and the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, in Havelock. “I am relatively new in my position. I learned about the partnership, how will the regional office in (Winston-Salem) works with the community partners and the service officers, the local areas.
“They have been doing these events for a couple of years, and they have probably been one of the most successful offices in the country at doing this sort of event. That is why I am here trying to learn and take back the best practices and hope that we can do more of them so people aren’t traveling from different states to come here.”