The 2017 Veterans Experience Action Center (VEAC) was held in Cary, NC on September 14-16, 2017. During that three day period, more than 1,000 veterans – some from as far away as Phoenix, AZ – were assisted by Veterans Benefit Agency (VBA) staff members with their VA claims and issues.
Richard Spyrison, the Service Officer for American Legion Post 67, says that the VEAC was the result of an idea from the American Legion’s State Veterans Benefits Officer (VBO) for North Carolina, who is based with the VBA in Winston-Salem. The State VBO was collaborating with the VBA to find ways to assist local veterans who needed assistance with their benefit claims. The VEAC gives veterans direct, face-to-face access with VBA staff members who can answer their questions, process their claims, and provide immediate and meaningful assistance to the veterans attending the event. The first VEAC was held in Jacksonville, followed by events in Asheville and Fuquay-Varina. American Legion Post 67 held its first VEAC in September 2016 with the help of the Cary Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7383. During that event, 570 veterans attended and over $500,000 in benefits were paid out. This year’s three-day event served 1,062 veterans – and the amount of benefits paid out will surely be higher.
Spyrison also said that the events have garnered tremendous support from the Town of Cary, the Cary Chamber of Commerce, and many local businesses that helped donate supplies, money, food, and time to organize and put on the VEACs. Starting with only basic information from other places which had held a VEAC, American Legion Post 67 and Cary VFW Post 7383 put together a committee of people, enlisted the support of various stakeholders, and planned the event. While they faced some logistical challenges, such as funding for the VBA staff, the tremendous support of the VBA staff and the local community made the first VEAC in Cary a success. After the initial event, this year’s event was planned, and now the stakeholders are focusing on 2018’s planned VEAC.
The VEACs draw veterans from across the country because at the moment, North Carolina is the only state that holds these events. Local news outlets featured numerous stories about veterans who had faced backlogs for years without any success walking out of the VEAC with claims resolved and benefits awarded. Veterans lined up to attend the event the night before and spent the night outside waiting for the chance to get assistance with benefit claims. Even those that didn’t get their claims successfully resolved got direct answers and reasons.
Spyrison, with American Legion Post 67, suggests that veterans who want to assist with these types of events and other events for their fellow veterans get involved with veterans groups like the American Legion, VFW, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), United States Marine Corps League (USMC League), American Veterans (AMVETS), and others. For civilians who want to help veterans and help with these programs, he recommends supporting the veterans groups with time, money, or goods that will enable the groups to put on events like the VEAC and provide other resources to veterans as well.
The 2018 VEAC is currently planned for September 13-15, 2018.