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Vets seek services from mobile office
Elmer "Tom" Campbell sought help to address his hearing problems last week. He was among a number of local veterans who showed up for a four-hour mobile office event bringing Veterans Affairs (VA) services to the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building.

"I can't hear," said Campbell, a Korean Conflict veteran from south Modesto, when asked why he turned out. "I need a hearing aid."

Campbell received a general health check-up, enrolled in the VA program, saw a doctor and was on his way to getting services.

Members of Ceres posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion worked in tandem to bring two large mobile buses to Ceres on Thursday.

"This is a first for us," said Ceres American Legion Commander Lewis Sims. "If it goes well (Valerie) wants to come back in September. The American Legion's mission is to reach veterans."

Ceres veterans advertised with neighboring Legion and VFW posts - including in Sonora, Mariposa and Patterson - to get the word out for other veterans to attend.

Dr. Jean Lighthall was on one of the buses to provide physicals for new enrollees or tend to medical issues of already enrolled veterans. She said many military veterans have gone years without seeking VA help but eventually may enroll because they stopped working and no longer have access to health insurance coverage.

Ceres area veterans were also directed to the VA's Community Based Outpatient Clinic at 1524 McHenry Avenue in Modesto (557-6200) for services.

To receive services from the VA, a veteran must have served two years of active duty and received an honorable discharge. In some cases there are income eligibility requirements.

Walt Bulter, a member of the VFW and Legion, is most concerned about reaching out to veterans who stubbornly refused to seek VA services for one reason or another. He recently encountered a veteran friend who resisted seeking VA help - saying the waits were too long - despite serious health problems. After some encouragement Butler's friend finally sought help from a VA hospital which diagnosed and successfully treated him for a brain tumor. Butler said the VA gives immediate attention to veterans facing medical emergencies.

The hardest veterans to reach, said Butler, has proven to be younger ones who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Combat veterans get five years of medical and they're not taking advantage of it," noted Sims.

The VA can also help with counseling. Many of those who served in the recent war fought since 2001 have been deeply affected by it. Sims said he was personally upset to see soldiers and Marines serving long tours of duty - nine to 10 months at a time- only to be rotated back to the front lines three, four and five times after short leaves.

"Most of the tours in Vietnam went twice and that was enough for them," said Sims.

Butler agreed, saying recent veterans have received poor treatment by the government, saying the government has acted like, "We've used you, abused you, now go."

"It's owed to them," said Butler. "It was an earned entitlement."