Montana has the fourth largest veteran population per capita in the nation. But it’s also the fourth-largest state in area, so many veterans seeking services are often forced to travel long distances to receive those services.
That’s why American Legion Silver Bow Post 1 in Butte decided to instead bring those services to the veterans. On March 4, the post hosted a veterans’ resource fair, teaming with three other veterans service organizations, and bringing in representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Montana Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to assist veterans face to face.
Veterans were able to get information on mental health and employment services, as well as file claims – including those now eligible via the PACT Act.
Post 1 Commander Dave Haulman, who also serves as the department’s sergeant-at-arms, came up with the idea and first presented it to the United Veterans Council of Butte Silver Bow County, which is comprised of the Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the Marine Corps League.
“I said the post would go ahead and sponsor the event,” Haulman said. “And we got to talking, we brought up screening for the PACT Act and maybe include that, as well as other entities.”
Haulman then reached out to American Legion Department of Montana Adjutant Duane Cunningham, who also serves as Montana’s My HealtheVet coordinator for the Department of Veterans Affairs. “It started rolling from there, and that’s how we got everything tied together,” said Haulman.
There were more than 16 tables set up at the event, manned by experts in women veterans’ issues, suicide prevention, benefits and other resources. Approximately 120 veterans attended the event. Of the attendees, Haulman estimates between 20 and 30 veterans were able to file PACT Act claims through the two service officers who were at the event.
Haulman said the success of the event was tied to the fact multiple organizations and agencies were involved. ““When you tie in all the organizations (that participated), you have a better cohesiveness of getting something off the ground,” he said. “We were trying to reach out to everybody. And since COVID shut everything down, there was a backlog for cases at the VA, as well as trying to get the other organizations’ activities back online. I thought this would be a good event to try to kickstart some new events and get some stuff done.”
Haulman said Cunningham has urged Legionnaires in other areas of the state to conduct similar events. Haulman advised those wanting to do so also reach out to their local Disabled Veteran Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists, who work to provide service-connected disabled veterans with tailored training and job placement opportunities.
“Shannon Ray, our DVOP, was instrumental in getting a lot of our fliers out and promoting the event,” Haulman said. “It’s a matter of using all your resources … and out to people inside of these other organizations and entities – those that deal with veteran homelessness, employment, vocational rehab. It’s a valuable resource to have for an event like this.”
Haulman said it won’t be the last resource fair Post 1 hosts. “We plan on having one every year to 18 months,” he said. “We’re a big state. For Southwest Montana, having something that’s close for some of the smaller towns … it really helps so that some of the veterans don’t have to travel as far.”