HAZLE TWP. — When Joe May returned from active duty in 2005, he wanted to find a way to continue service.
As a counselor licensed to work with post traumatic stress disorder patients, the Army veteran who served in Iraq now runs a Mobile Veterans Center for the Veterans Administration tending to veterans’ needs.
On a sunny Tuesday morning, May — along with PTSD counselor Steve Davis, who is also an Iraqi War veteran — parked the 38-foot Winnebago equipped with three private counseling spaces, which can double as a command center in emergencies, at the Laurel Mall.
May said that day he would probably see four or five veterans who schedule monthly counseling sessions with him. For the most part, the two answered questions about veterans benefits and answered inquiries with what May called a “warm hand-off.”
“Giving somebody a 1-800 number is pretty impersonal,” May said, and added that by getting them directly in touch with the right officials, they can expedite vets’ cases.
Patrick Dignazio, a Navy veteran who served from 1985 to 1987, stopped by to see about disability benefits from the VA. He brought with him a letter from Social Security Administration denying his disability claim and hoped to get some answers. He said he had been working with someone in U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta’s office to file a claim with the VA, but the man retired, and Dignazio didn’t know where to go next.
May said that unfortunately many veterans have a similar story. They work with county, state or federal officials who move on in their careers or retire and the veterans have to start from square one. May said that during regular stops when the RV shows up in different parking lots in the state’s eastern region, most of the questions he and others answer have to do with claims and take only a few moments. However, he said that without the RV parking close to home, many of the veterans may never get the direction they need.
Out of 70 federally funded Mobile Veterans Centers in the country, May said his unit is one of the busiest because Luzerne County has a robust veteran population.
State Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township, pushed for the RV in Hazleton and said, though it was a struggle at first, they’ve been active for more than one year.
“Our veterans have sacrificed so much for us. I strive to bring them as many services and as much help as I can,” Toohil said in an email. “We make the VA and vets bus more accessible to southern Luzerne County by bringing these services to the vets.”