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Veterans deserve their nation's help
By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Theres only one Arda Johnson but 2,300 Baker County residents depend on her.
Johnson, a veteran herself of the U.S. Army (she was a helicopter crew chief, among other things, during the late 1970s), serves as Baker County Veterans Services Officer. From her office in the basement of the Baker County Courthouse, its her job to help veterans obtain the services theyve earned through service to their country, including health care, counseling, disability pensions even low mortgage rates on their homes.
I dont look at it as a job, she said. Im a veteran myself, and this is my opportunity to serve the veterans among us.
And shes no desk-bound bureaucrat: when veterans or their families cant physically make it in to see her, Johnson journeys to wherever theyre at: their home, hospital bed, or nursing home room.
The impact that veterans had on their nation is well documented in films like Saving Private Ryan. The impact they and their families have on the countys economy also is being documented, Johnson said.
Currently, through their military service compensation and pensions, veterans and their families pump $2,213,925 annually into the Baker County economy.
Its a number thats constantly changing, but it is a big impact, Johnson said. I always encourage veterans to enroll, especially in the veterans health care program. Prescriptions through the VA are $2 per month per prescription. Thats a big help, but its also a big wait to get to see a VA doctor.
The nearest VA medical facilities are in Boise and Walla Walla, but volunteers are available to drive veterans to their appointments, Johnson said.
Part of Johnsons job centers on helping veterans cut through the red tape that can shroud government programs. Thats especially important, she said, when veterans with some level of disability or who fit some special category including income, or former prisoner of war status seek to move up into a higher priority group.
Theyll call the VA regional office in Portland which sends them the forms, but those forms can be overwhelming, Johnson said. If somebody stops by with a question about filling them out, Im happy to see them. Its an entitlement that theyve earned.
Those priority groups, numbered one through seven, help determine pension levels but Johnson says its often difficult for the nations veterans to ask for even the help theyve earned.
Ive been seeing a lot of World War II veterans for the first time, she said. They served their country, got out of the military, and went on with their lives. They are hesitant to ask for help, but its help theyve earned.
Most of the younger veterans she sees from the Vietnam era through Desert Storm differ from older veterans in that they have moved to Baker County and are not native. For younger veterans as well as older ones, Johnson must sometimes listen to a whole litany of problems brought on by such conditions as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The PTSD claims are the most traumatic I see, she said. The events those veterans have been through are disturbing, and when they have to file claims, its like they have to go through it all over again.
From her desk in the Courthouse, Johnson can look out a window and see the countys eternal flame a torch lit Friday, Sept. 14, on the day President Bush set aside for prayer to honor the nations rescue workers. Baker County used the opportunity to relight a flame that honors those who have given their lives in the nations service.
Since Sept. 11, things have changed for everybody, Johnson said. Its good to see all this support countywide. I think this flame is a great tribute to the veterans we have here.
The Veterans Services Office, a county service, is open 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. Monday, 8 a.m. through noon Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and is closed Friday. Johnson may be reached at 523-8223.