Local veterans get needed assistance at SOVAH event

FALLS CITY — A six-year mission was accomplished Thursday at the Serving Our Veterans at Home (SOVAH) outreach event in Falls City.    During the annual 2008 homeless count, SOVAH executive director Wayne Crowder — though the organization hadn’t yet formed — found six homeless veterans living in the town.    “I said, ‘This has got to change,’” he recalled. “Veterans and homeless should never be in the same sentence.”   Driven to change that, Crowder launched SOVAH. In the six years since, the Salem nonprofit organization has reached about 2,000 veterans in the Polk and Marion county areas.    But one of those original guys who inspired Crowder was holding out, refusing to seek benefits.    Until Thursday.    “I got one that I’ve been after for six years and he will meet with me next week to go to his first appointment,” Crowder said, clearly excited. “I met him at the homeless count and talked to him. He would come to these events, but he wouldn’t allow himself to go to the vet center or ODVA (Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs) because they were government buildings. He didn’t trust them.”   Finally, in one of their many conversations, he said, “Wayne, I’m ready.”    Crowder said he would call to make the appointment.    “I will take him there if I have to,” Crowder said. “I don’t care what it takes to get him there.”   Crowder is that passionate about helping every vet, not only because their service qualifies them for benefits, but because often they need it.   SOVAH holds events like Thursday’s to let vets and their families know about available services and help get them in contact with the resources they need.    “Many people don’t know that we are there or what we have for them,” said Ron Fritz, a therapist with New Phoenix Counseling in Dallas. “Veterans don’t know that their medical benefits covers counseling, covers therapy.”   Thursday’s outreach also provided a hot meal and free clothing to anyone who walked through the door, regardless of whether they were a vet or family member of a veteran.    Dallas Lions Club members were there to sign people up for vision and hearing exams, Polk County’s Service Integration Team was on hand, as was Ken Houghton of Mid-Valley Community Action’s Supportive Services for Veterans Families Program.    Crystal Puller, the manager of Mountain View Gospel Church’s clothing closet and Crowder’s daughter, provided more than 400 clothing items to give away. Puller also was in charge of spreading the word about the event in Falls City.    Her efforts worked. In just a few hours, more than 75 people came through the doors. Crowder was pleased with the outcome, saying his goal is to reach as many veterans as possible.   “I want them to laugh. I want them to leave here happy,” he said. “Then I know we’ve been successful. It’s not about numbers; it’s about quality.”   Crowder also seems to know that it may take time to convince some people it is safe to seek help. Sentiments of distrust or frustration with the government veterans once served was common among those at the event.    Marv Olson is an example of that, a Marine who served from 1984 to 1991.    His service left him with traumatic brain injury and bodily injuries that plague him to this day. He’s struggled to acquire his full benefits, with homelessness and substance abuse.    He credits Crowder and SOVAH for saving his life.    “If it wasn’t for people like Wayne and SOVAH, there would be so many more homeless vets,” he said.    Delays in receiving benefits often sour veterans on government services, so many depend on organizations like SOVAH to assist them.   “Vets can’t rely on anyone else, we have to take care of our own,” Olson said. “It’s comfortable because we know we are safe here.”


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