Veteran services remain available despite COVID-19

A veteran salutes the flag at the Veterans Day ceremonies at Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall Sunday morning. Cory Rubin/ The Signal
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Officials said Thursday that the services provided to many Santa Clarita Valley veterans through the Veterans Administration remain available, while other services, such as grocery buying, have become available, as well.

R.J. Kelly, a local veterans advocate and retired member of the Marine Corps, said that normally there are a number of vans and buses, both through the VA and through other organizations, that can transport veterans to either the Sepulveda or Wilshire VA locations in Los Angeles.

He said some of those ride services are still available for SCV veterans, but that there’s also a reimbursement program for mileage that pays 41.5 cents per mile for approved, health-related travel.

One of the trickiest things veterans need to navigate right now, though, is learning when and where their appointments are because Sepulveda has been closed down due to COVID-19, Kelly said.

“Everything at Sepulveda has been canceled, so anybody that had appointments have been canceled unless there’s an emergency,” said Kelly. “They do have the small vans that limited the number of people going to Westwood in numbers that are trying to keep (potential) exposure under control.

Jerry Peterson, U.S. Army and Vietnam veteran, said he had been to the VA since the pandemic began, and outside of a single appointment that he canceled, his care has remained relatively the same.

“My psychiatrist (appointment) now is going to be a phone call instead of going down there,” said Peterson, adding that the other change he noted was both the increased number of veterans at the hospital and that there are now two entrances available at the hospital. “There’s one for staff and one for veterans and then you’re asked a bunch of questions before you are admitted into the building.”

Veterans will only be allowed to have an escort if the escort is critical to the care of the veteran, VA officials said on Wednesday. The escort will be allowed to enter care facilities after passing a brief screening.

Kelly said veterans can also use the Veterans Administration website to make appointments, cancel appointments or order prescriptions.

One of the biggest fears, however, are the veterans who are being overly cautious here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“Most of what we’ve been having to deal with is the same thing that goes on with regular people … food shortages, going stir crazy staying in the house, there’s transportation issues,” said Kelly. “We had a vet that sat in the parking lot for almost an hour trying to get somebody to go out and get some groceries for them.”

“I mean they paid for it, but just the paranoia of being out in public,” said Kelly. “Most of our Vietnam vets, they’re anywhere from 68 to 74-75 years old, so they get a little paranoid.”

Kelly said he’s helping organize volunteers who are looking to help veterans with groceries and they can reach out to him at 661-510-1025.

For more information about what services are available to veterans, visit www.va.gov.

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