Veterans benefits center headed back to North Carolina

In September 2016, American Legion Post 67 in Cary, N.C., teamed up with other organizations and agencies to conduct a Veterans’ Experience Action Center (VEAC). Over the course of three days, 600 veterans and their families received assistance in areas such as veterans benefits claims, mental health treatment and other health-care concerns.

Post 67 Service Officer Richard Spyrison thinks this year’s VEAC can make an even bigger impact.

“Our expectations (in 2016) were actually a little lower because we were kind of flying by the seat of our pants, not knowing, really, what we were doing,” said Spyrison, who also serves as Post 67’s 1st vice commander. “It just kind of fell into place.

“We think we’ve got a good possibility of 800 (this year). I think we’ve got (the word) out pretty good right now.”

This year’s VEAC is taking place Sept. 14-16 at the Cary Herbert Young Community Center, 101 Wilkinson Ave., in Cary. Post 67 will team up with the Cary VFW Post 7383, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Wake County (N.C.) Veterans’ Services to provide assistance in processing benefits claims and claim status updates, and distribute information regarding available services. Veteran service officers from throughout North Carolina also will be present to assist with the claims process.

The VEAC started as a Veterans Benefits Action Center in 2014 under the leadership of former Department of North Carolina Service Officer Cajun Comeau. A series of such events garnered more than $1 million in retroactive VA payments to veterans and their families.

“Cajun had put together these programs … across the state, but nothing had been done in Central North Carolina,” Spyrison said. “We saw a need. I was representing our post at our county veterans council … and found out we have over 70,000 veterans just in our county alone. We felt there was a need, and it just fell into place and grew from there. The whole post got involved. We thought it was important and got the community involved, businesses involved.

“We are trying to reach the hundreds of veterans who may not have access to those services or got lost while navigating the claims process. It is our hope that our outreach program will gain traction on a national level and garner funding and support from top officials in Washington.”

A year ago veterans came from as far away as Maryland and Georgia to receive assistance at the VEAC. “We’ve tried to look at about a three-hour drive for a veteran,” Spyrison said. “These guys or girls will do anything to be able to sit down with a veteran’s rep and talk about their case. Distance is really no object to them.”

The hours for the VEAC are 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 14-15 and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 16.