COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA)—Groups from across South Carolina that help veterans met Thursday at the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia for the nation’s first Community Veterans Engagement Board Summit. There are three CVEBs in the state—in the Update, Midlands, and Lowcountry—and other groups that help veterans. The idea was to bring them together to better coordinate their efforts.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a veteran himself, told the group, “We have so many groups out there that are operating independent of one another who are doing so many wonderful things, but I feel like if we kind of wove ourselves together as a fabric we could be force multipliers for each of our independent missions.”
Robert Rice, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran, is not a member of any of the groups but came to the meeting to see what he could learn. He had his left knee replaced in 2004 and his right hip replaced in 2015 at the VA. He says his biggest concern is how long it takes veterans to get the healthcare they need. “When I was going through the process trying to get my hip replaced, they sent me to an outside doctor and it took six months for them to even get me back in to an appointment,” he says.
The summit wasn’t about healthcare specifically, though. Rich Boggan, Administrative Officer for Community-Based Outpatient Clinics for the VA Medical Center, says, “From a VA perspective, we are bringing healthcare to the veterans in their communities. We’ve got the new Greenville clinic that we’ve brought up in Greenville. We’ve got the new Anderson one also. We’re expanding services, but we can’t do it without everybody’s help. You have other organizations that do different things that can really concentrate on other parts, especially housing.” He says the summit was also to talk about things like education for veterans who are transitioning back into the workforce. Wilson told the summit that he’s creating within the Attorney General’s office a new Office of Military Legal Assistance, which will coordinate free legal work offered to veterans for things like wills and powers of attorney.
The summit was to bring all of them together, not only to coordinate their efforts but also to brainstorm ways to get services to more veterans across the state. The three CVEBs cover only 20 of the state’s 46 counties. Five other counties are covered by other veteran organizations, and four border counties are covered by organizations in Georgia. That leaves 17 counties in South Carolina, with 22 percent of the state’s veterans, not covered.
While this was the first summit, the groups plan to continue meeting to improve their networking and coordination.