Franklin County sends vets in right direction


The first Franklin County Veterans “Where to Turn For Help!” event covered many topics of interest to America's soldiers, sailors and airmen, but most of the agencies were dedicated to two purposes: housing and employment. Sponsored by Franklin County LINK and Pennsylvania Career Link, agencies from the county and state set up shop at Rhodes Grove Camp on June 20. Veterans were able to visit the vendors to connect with services that may need now or in the future.

“We realized a huge need for Franklin County vets,” said Sandy Shaleen, county coordinator of Human Services Information and Referral. She organized the seminar. “This is a nice one-stop shopping event. Everyone can enjoy the day, and a meal, and find help. We hope to do this annually.”

Her office at 425 Franklin Farm Lane, Chambersburg, was extremely busy, she said. One of the main needs was rental assistance for veterans or any resident of Franklin County. People often had enough money for rent, but not for the deposits.

“Life happens. They get in a rut and can't get out.”

Master Chief William Reed was the featured speaker. He spent 26 years in the Navy, and then became director of veterans services at the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg. Services expanded to eight counties after he obtained a homeless veterans reintegration program grant in 2006, and others since then.

Reed had been surprised to learn that while Franklin County had 13,000 veterans, no homeless vets had ever sought care at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center.

“Individuals taught to be resilient - honor, courage, dedication - don't like to get help,” he said. “It's just not our way.”

His office began an outreach in Franklin County, and it became the third busiest county for them.

“We're finding them now,” he said, encouraged. “And families near the homeless state. We are getting into their homes. These are people who didn't know what to do.”

He saw the road to homelessness as caused by isolation, affecting people with no connection to others. Mental illness such as depression led to self-medication to deal with the pain, which became an endless cycle.

Lots of resources

Polly Fiegl from the Office  of Vocational Rehabilitation helped anyone with a disability that created a barrier to working.

“Every person is different,” she said, “but the goal is employment. The younger vets coming in want to work. They have the skillsets and want help to be successful.”

She partnered with PA Career Link to connect people with what was right for them.

The Franklin County Assistance Office provide aid with cash, food stamps, medical care and fuel costs, among other things, based on income guidelines. The biggest request was for medical assistance.

Office manager Cindy Holmquist said, “People have lost their medical insurance. Our goal is to get everybody covered.”

Shaleen was excited about a new Pennsylvania phone service, 211, which put people in immediate contact a knowledgeable person who could answer questions about services or direct them to the right party. Calls were taken around the clock.

Jessica Campbell was a staffer who took one weekly night shift. Sixty volunteers also underwent 55 hours of training to be qualified to respond to the many calls.

“A lot of times in the middle of the night, it's just 'I need someone to talk to.' We do active listening,” she said.

Two companies affiliated with the Proctor and Gamble plant under construction in Shippensburg were present to explain their current hiring programs. Jerry West, strategic leader for Quality Associates, needed several hundred employees for packaging. He sought people with experience in leadership now, and laborers would be hired later.

Jim Haaland froom DB Schenker was in charge of shipping and needed 500 people. He was also looking for qualified leaders now, and laborers would start as temps in August, then transition to permanent employees.

“We would like them to have experience,” he stated, “but if they have a good work record, we train them at the entry level.”

The American Red Cross was on hand with information on its reconnection program for military families, and adjusting after deployment. Other vendors included Keystone Health, Pennsylvania State Police, Army National Guard, area colleges, and Franklin County agencies.

Reed summed up the necessary treatment for veterans in need of services.

“Solutions take the community, not just the government.”