PEMBROKE — The director of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Fayetteville urged veterans Saturday to join in her efforts to establish a veterans treatment court in Robeson County.
Elizabeth Goolsby was a keynote speaker at a Lumbee Tribe-sponsored veterans stand down held at the Pembroke Boys and Girls Club. The stand down provided all veterans with access to information about benefits they may be eligible to receive, as well as the process for obtaining benefits. It also provided special services — including haircuts and confidential counseling — for any veteran who identified themselves as being homeless.
Goolsby said that veterans treatment courts operating in Cumberland and Harnett counties are successfully helping address social, legal, and medical issues that have landed veterans in the court system.
“They are helping to right wrongs and expunge records,” she said. “If one has a conviction, they can’t get things because of it … These courts are a second chance, a do-over, for our veterans.”
Goolsby said to establish such a court requires the county district attorney, a judge and the clerk of court to be on board with the program. This group has to take on the responsibility of the court’s administration, she said.
“I supply a social worker from my budget to these courts because I think they are so important,” said Goolsby. “But the court has to come from the county.”
Goolsby, director of the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville, said that the number of area veterans and their needs and services is growing significantly. She said that when she became director on July 4, 2010, the Fayetteville Medical Center was serving 42,000 veterans. In the past year, she said, the number of served veterans has jumped to 70,000.
Ensuring that veterans are not homeless is a major issue that must be addressed, according to Goolsby.
“If you are not housed, it is very difficult to take care of your health,” she said.
Others who spoke to the crowd of about 200 at the stand down included Jim Prosser, North Carolina’s Assistant Secretary for Military and Veterans Affairs; Ed Clark, case manager for the Department of Housing – Veterans Administration’s Supportive Housing Program; and Harvey Godwin Jr., chairman of the Lumbee Tribe.
Prosser said that when he works with other tribes across North Carolina, he uses the Lumbee Tribe as a model of how to use partnerships to provide services to veterans.
“You have always served your country, even when your country didn’t treat you that good,” Prosser said.
Clark spoke of a study now under way to identify the number of homeless Lumbee veterans and the number of homeless veterans in several other tribes. Out of 25 groups being studied, he said, the Lumbee Tribe is the only non-federal recognized tribe participating.
“It’s slow going,” he said. “We have been given 20 vouchers, or slots, to help our homeless veterans. We hope we can prove we have a much greater need and then maybe we can get more vouchers. That’s usually the way it works.”
Godwin welcomed the veterans to Saturday’s event and pledged the support of his administration in efforts to meet their needs.
“When I look at you veterans and what you have gone through, the problems I have every day seem so trivial,” he said. “… You have not only kept people in our country free, you have helped people in other countries to remain free.”
For Avon Hammonds, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Vietnam War from Saddletree, the stand down was an informative event. He said that more veterans should take advantage of such events to learn about benefits and services they are eligible to receive.
“The reason so many veterans don’t get help is that they don’t go to the VA and ask for it,” Hammonds said. “The VA can help, but the veteran has to initiate the first step.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.