By Mike Steely
Many of our veterans and their families lining up for the Veterans Day Parade tomorrow may know of the various services available to them in Knox County but many may not realize the sheer volume of services, agencies, and benefits available.
Surviving veterans and their families may choose from a variety of services, from Knox County and State agencies to the Veterans Administration. There’s also veteran organizations, clubs, services for addition, the homeless veterans, and information on VA loans.
Knox County Veterans Service Office
Maybe the best place for Knox County veterans to start would be the Veterans Service Office at 1000 North Central Street in the former Sears building. That is true especially for those veteran families who don’t know the many benefits and services available or those families having difficulty with applying or receiving benefits.
Tom Humphries and Mark Lett are there to help. Services include helping veterans and their dependents in filing for service connected disability compensation, improved pension programs with housebound aid, health benefits enrollment, burial benefits, flags, headstones markers and military honors, replacement copies of discharge papers, military records and service medical records, GI Bill, Vocational Rehab and Education assistance, VA insurance programs, and final notice of disagreements and appeals for denied forms.
“We look at it as a chance to give back,” Humphries told The Focus.
“Anything we can do to assist the veteran or spouse, with filing paper work, etc., it’s definitely worthwhile,” he said.
The service officers travel to senior citizens centers to provide one-on-one assistance, explain benefits, answer questions, and help with filings for benefits.
The Veterans Service Officers can be reached at 215-5645. The office will be closed Tuesday, November 11th, for Veterans Day.
The Ben Atchley Veterans’ Home
Eugene Wenzel, an elderly U. S. Air Force retiree came down the hall using his walker. Wenzel has been a resident at Ben Atchley State Veterans Home near Karns just off Cowards Mill Road and Byington-Solway Road for several years now. The elderly veteran is accompanied by Doug Ottinger, Administrator of the Tennessee State facility.
“He’s our spokesman,” Ottinger says in humor.
Ottinger says the facility was opened in 2007 and has 140 beds and, at the moment, a 5 bed vacancy. More than 500 veterans, spouses, and Gold Star parents have applied to get in the home and are maintained on a mailing list. When a vacancy occurs, the staff contacts applicants to find their status but at no time can more than 25% of the residents be non-vets.
Ottinger said that it’s nice to be administrator of one of the three state veterans’ homes because the residents get what they want, not just what they need. Administered by the Tennessee Sate Veteran’s Home Board the two other facilities are in Murfreesboro and Humboldt with a new facility being built in Clarksville.
“About 95% of our residents are referred from hospitals,” the administrator explains. He added that while some vets pass away in the nursing home several also recover from falls or other injuries and return home.
“We are self sufficient,” he says, explaining that Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, insurance and private pay covers the cost of residency.
Being a resident at Ben Atchley doesn’t mean being bedridden. Ottinger says that they are taken to places like air shows, the aquarium, etc. They also go out to dine now and then and attend movies.
“We have a 5 Star Medicare Rating,” he says.
“I’ve been in nursing home administration for 28 years but my 4 ½ years here have been my proud est years,” Ottinger says.
Getting on the list for the facility requires a few things: being entitled to medical treatment or other benefits from the VA, being a Tennessee resident or veteran born in Tennessee, having a Tennessee address or having an immediate family member who is a Tennessee resident.
Professional nursing care is available 24 hours a day. Daily activities are provided plus physical therapy, occupational and speech therapy and restorative care are provided.
“Proudly serving those who served” and “A Home for Heroes” is the pledge of the Ben Atchley State Veterans’ Home.
Veterans and their family wanting more information can call the facility at 862-8100 or find them on the internet at www.tsvh.org.
Volunteers of America
The Knoxville office of Volunteers of America can help veterans with case management, job training and placement, and transportation services. They also offer referrals and links to other service providers.
The office offers the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project and all services are open to veterans. Volunteers of America is located at 2821 East Magnolia Avenue and you can reach them at 546-4813 or 866-737-6744. The homeless program comes from a grant funded by the Department of Labor. A veteran with a notice of eviction can contact the office and get referrals to other programs, either helping with rent or finding another home.
The program focuses on very low income veteran households or single veterans who are homeless or face an immediate risk of homelessness. The Knoxville office serves Knox, Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Cocke, Claiborne, Grainger, Loudon, Sevier and Union Counties.
The Volunteers of America also offer the Homeless Female Veterans program and focus on female veterans with at least one dependent under the age of 18.
A DD 214 discharge paper and a VA medical card or retirement card is required. You can find out more at www.voatn.org.
National VA Information
The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans in crisis and their family and friends to a toll-free hotline, online chat, or text message. The Department of Veterans Affairs responders hold all information confidential. The hotline number is 800-273-8244, extension 1. Text messages can be sent to 838255.
Confidential support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. Support for deaf or hard of hearing is also available.
The Veterans Affairs National Call Center telephone number, for routine questions, is 800-827-1000.
VA Hospitals in our region
The Mountain Home VA Hospital in Johnson City is the area’s primary medical center for veterans and the telephone number is 877-573-559. Locally the Knoxville Outpatient Clinic can be reached at 670-2360.
Regional Veterans Mental Health Council
The Knoxville Regional Veterans Mental Health Council has a mission to bridge the gap between veterans receiving mental health services and their families, the VA Mental Health professionals and support from service organizations. This allows information to flow both ways to develop methods of measuring a veteran’s satisfaction and advocate needed changes. It reduces the stigma association with seeking and using mental health services.
The Mental Health Council is endorsed by but not part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is located at 8033 Ray Mears Boulevard, Knoxville, 37917. You can call them at 336-2624 or find them on line at www.tnvhc.org.
East Tennessee Veterans Treatment Court
The first of its kind in East Tennessee, the Veterans Treatment Court began in December 2013, becoming one of three such courts in the state. It is part of an emerging judicial effort designed to address the needs of veterans and is made up of veterans who volunteer as mentors.
The VTC coordinates with, via the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care networks, the Veterans Benefits Administration, Vet Centers, Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs, volunteer veteran mentors, Knox County Department of Veterans Affairs, and veteran’s family support organizations.
The program combines treatment and accountability for veterans facing incarceration due to substance abuse or mental health issues.
Ross Hanaver is Director and can be reached at 659-6352 or RonH@KnoxDrugCourt.org. The office is at 900 East Hill Avenue, Suite 310, in Knoxville, 37915.
Veterans Outreach, Department of Labor
Jim Parker is the Veterans Outreach Specialist, Workforce Services here in Knoxville. He’s with the State of Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development and can be reached at 594-6908 or email James.Parker@tn.gov.
Other VA groups
There are many, many other organizations, clubs and groups serving the Knox County military veterans. Most of these can be found on the internet or by calling one of the county or state offices in this article.