Workshops for veterans, their families & caregivers extends reach to connect with benefits

Connecting with veterans so that they receive the benefits they have earned is a priority to veteran service organizations. To better reach one of Texas’s largest veteran populations, retired Army veteran Steve Mckee of the Bexar County Veteran Services Office sets up shop at active duty installations, holds twice monthly workshops at a local college auditorium and attends monthly outreach events, in addition to receiving veterans at his office in the Bexar County Military and Veterans Services Center. To further extend reach to veterans in his area, training is being developed for caretakers. Additionally, his agency hopes to add an outreach vehicle to visit communities around the county.

Bexar County’s veteran populations is nearly 160,000. Add in their dependents, survivors, caregivers; plus transitioning military in the area, Bexar County VCSO is serving a community of around 200,000.

“I am in the process of developing training for caretakers, social workers, and others in the community that could be a force multiplier in assisting Veterans,” said McKee. “This idea arose from the constant request from the local veterans in independent living communities and assistive living facilities. We called this Train the Trainer in the Army when I served. It is a great way to reach the most people possible.  We understand that in a community with over 200,000 military, veteran, and dependents that a staff of 5-6 VSOs will never be able to reach every single person in need; however, I want to try to educate as many centers of influence within Bexar County to help reach as many veterans as possible.”

Pictured are Steve Mckee and his wife Kimberly, who is a Navy veteran.

McKee joined Bexar County in May 2021, after serving as a State of Florida VSO from September 2019 to April 2021. Upon arriving in Bexar, he started increasing outreach to veterans. As recently as January 25, 2023, his team used The Good Samaritan Veteran Outreach & Transition Center (GSVOTC) at St. Philips College in San Antonio to provide a PACT Act workshop.

“One of the first things I did after becoming the Bexar County Veterans Benefit Services Manager was to plus up the Benefits Staff and to develop workshops to present in the community to better educate veterans about the benefits they may be entitled to and deserve. We used to give the workshop in our office, but quickly outgrew the space. We partnered with The Good Samaritan Veteran Outreach & Transition Center and began giving classes twice a month to help reach more veterans. We are now able to hold classes for 50 veterans and the GSVOTC is expanding to seat 75.”

His team offers what McKee describes as “full cycle” services, from Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) Claims to initial claims and on to survivor benefits. Additionally, they offer assistance finding employment. “Our office has a team of Military Service Officers that focus on assisting veterans and their dependents find employment.  The office is set up like a Transition Point similar to what service members access while separating from service.  Our goal is to ensure that the veteran has a successful transition from active duty.”

Though McKee considers every veteran assisted a success, he recalls recent work with a Korean War veteran as being particularly fulfilling.

“He was a doctor that went straight from medical school to a 2 year tour in the Army. He came in for a simple compensation claim, but his records were lost in a fire and he had no copy of his DD214. The VA confirmed that they could not locate any records and could not verify his service.  He tried this a few years ago and wanted to at least get his service acknowledged to get access to be buried at Fort Sam Houston.  I was able to give the VA enough secondary evidence (award, performance evaluation, and photos) to have the VA decide favorably for his small claim.  The award was small compared to others, but he was able to finally have some closure after leaving the military over 60 years ago and now will be able to be buried at Fort Sam Houston.  I always tell my VSOs, it is not always about the money and the bottom line is to understand what assistance the veteran wants and needs.  Then do whatever is possible to get the veteran the benefits that they deserve.”

McKee encourages veterans to make their Claims, get assistance and share their experience and what they’ve learned. “Do not be afraid to ask for help and it is never too late to file a claim or seek assistance. Share your knowledge with other veterans and pay it forward to others seeking assistance.”

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