When a veteran recently came to the Greenwood Veterans of Foreign War post seeking some cash for gas and food, a man was there to help him remembered when he had only $3 to live on.
Greenwood VFW post commander Steve Milbourn said he knows what it feels like to be homeless and have nowhere to turn.
Years ago, he lived for five months in a shelter in downtown Indianapolis for homeless veterans.
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“I know how important it is for them to have a friend, have a connection, get some help,” Milbourn said.
That’s why the mission of the VFW is so important to Milbourn and why he spends his days helping fellow veterans, whether he is assisting them with paperwork to file a claim for disability, helping them understand their medical bills from the VA hospital, nudging them to turn in their paperwork to finally get their high school diploma or helping them pay a bill or buy gas or food.
“Whatever I’m doing, I stop, because helping a veteran is the most important,” he said. “They served our country and we owe them a debt.”
Milbourn wants to dispel the long-held cliche of VFWs being a smoke-filled room where men sit and drink. Their goal is to serve and help those veterans, he said.
“Our motto is: no one does more for veterans,” he said.
He estimates the Greenwood VFW helps 100 to 150 veterans a year. That includes giving a struggling veteran up to $100 once a year to help with bills or other expenses. He has seen veterans who are homeless, who have attempted suicide or who are just having a rough time, he said. He has been called out in the middle of the night to buy someone gas, and he remembers every one of them, he said.
“Everybody has a story,” Milbourn said.
The newly formed VFW serving the Greenwood and Center Grove area has helped about 150 veterans since it was created last year, commander Britton Shoellhorn said.
Shoellhorn, who also works for Veterans Affairs, wants to focus on outreach and telling veterans what benefits are available to them by visiting local organizations or other veteran groups, he said.
He also has been helping veterans find work and recently helped one veteran land a new job paying him twice as much as he had been making, he said. And he helps them get the medical benefits they have earned through the VA, including one woman who had hurt her knees while serving in the National Guard and needed surgery so she could continue working, he said.
“It’s about helping each other. We’re a family, and we’ve got to take care of each other,” Shoellhorn said.
But the biggest need is helping veterans understand the benefits available to them, Milbourn and Shoellhorn said.
Veterans who served in WWII, Vietnam or Korea often have no idea what is available to them, because that wasn’t a focus when they were discharged, Milbourn said. Many don’t know how to file a claim for disability, some don’t know how to use a computer and they have no idea who to contact to get help, he said.
For Milbourn, who served in Vietnam, going through the process to reach 100 percent disability because of his post-traumatic stress disorder took 11 years, he said.
Now, he helps his fellow veterans navigate that process. He also is glad to see that younger veterans, including those who served in the first Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, are coming out of the military better educated about what resources and benefits are available, he said.
“Younger veterans have a better road because of our trials and tribulations, and I am thankful for that,” he said.
Shoellhorn also works with younger veterans to help them find out what resources are available through the GI bill for them to attend college, he said.
As a new post, their focus also has been on getting up and running, getting nonprofit status and opening a lodge, where members can meet, use a gym and get their families together, he said.
While he wants to help veterans get the benefits and services they are entitled to, the VFW can also help build camaraderie, which veterans often lose when they leave the military. So they host gatherings for veterans and their families, and he wants that to continue to grow.
“We are trying to fill the gap they had in the military, with camaraderie and fellowship,” he said.