A Johnston County group is trying to connect veterans to resources that could help them and their families.
Chapter 44 of the Disabled American Veterans will host “Gone But Not Forgotten,” a free veterans’ expo, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at its building at 1500 Buffalo Road, Smithfield. The county’s Health Department, Social Services Department, job recruiters and more will be on hand. But the expo is also a family event, with music, food and games.
“The event is to honor veterans, both still living and gone,” said Cynthia Harris, who is helping the DAV organize the expo.
One aim is to introduce veterans to resources they might not be aware of, Harris said. “There are veterans’ organizations and businesses in the community that the veterans ... can go to to get assistance with, let’s say, their water bill, their light bill, help finding a home, help finding a placement and sometimes even just getting back and forth to the doctors.”
Johnston has about 14,000 veterans who make up about 8 percent of the county’s population. Not all of them know about resources that can help them find a job, pay for their education, provide financial assistance in tough times and offer medical care, including mental health care, Harris said.
The expo is a chance for veterans to get an overview of those resources. Also, some veterans might be afraid to reach out for help with some problems, such as mental illness, Harris said. The expo is a chance to learn about those resources without directly seeking them out, she said.
“They don’t have to participate in everything and don’t have to stay all day,” Harris said. “But we would like them to stop by, and whatever they think they might need to know, they can go by each station and get information from each one.”
One resource many veterans don’t know about is education assistance through the Veterans Administration, Harris said. “A lot of veterans think after they’ve been out so long that they can’t get any assistance with education with the VA, which is actually incorrect,” she said. “They have vocational rehab assistance, which will pay for all of your schooling once the school has been approved and then help you find a job after you get finished with school.”
Another resource is a DAV support group for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Harris said. That group meets from 12:30 to 2 p.m. every Monday.
Rudy Baker, chairman of the Johnston County Veterans Service Advisory Board, said veterans face a number of challenges, including unemployment and homelessness. He doesn’t have statistics for Johnston County, but nationally, he said, the jobless rate for veterans is usually one percentage point higher than the rate for all Americans. And though he doesn’t have numbers for homeless, he’s met some and knows it’s a problem.
Baker supports the expo and wants to raise more awareness. “Veterans helping veterans,” he said. “No body knows what a veteran needs moreso than a veteran and understands it. So what we hope to do is raise the awareness so people get more involved.”
For the families of veterans, a clown will paint faces and make balloon art, and a barber will give free haircuts. Also, a drill team will perform, and kids can play in a bouncy castle. When they’re hungry, attendees can enjoy a variety of food, including hot dogs and cotton candy.
For questions about the expo or the DAV’s resources, including the weekly PTSD support group, call 919-300-1263.