HOW TO HELP
Who: Karen Carnes, volunteer coordinator at Chattanooga VA Outpatient Clinic
What: To donate items or volunteer at events for homeless veterans
Phone: 423-893-6500, dial 0 for operator.
More than 75 workers and military veteran supporters took a short walk Wednesday to bring attention to two problems for veterans - physical fitness and homelessness.
In the first local VA2k at the Veterans Outpatient Clinic off Brainerd Road, volunteers came alone and in four-person teams. Some women wore tutus and tiaras; others came in khaki pants and tennis shoes.
The event was organized by the Department of Veterans Affairs to educate veterans about keeping physically fit and to draw attention to the clinic's programs for homeless veterans.
Case manager Chris Atkins sees 1,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans a year in his work at the clinic.
The three top problems for which veterans seek disability are chronic back pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and hearing loss, he said.
Physical fitness can help the back pain.
Atkins can attest personally.
While serving on a combat deployment as an Army soldier in 2007 he injured his back, causing portions to fuse together.
"I didn't have good core strength," he said. "I was just a skinny guy."
But strengthening exercises and other workouts have helped him manage the pain.
Fitness is part of an overall preventive medicine strategy at the VA through initiatives of U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
The fitness approach can help veterans manage and improve pain, perhaps meaning they will require less pain medication, Atkins said. Getting active can help social skills by meeting people and reducing stress for combat vets, too.
But fitness wasn't the only message being presented.
Beth Washburn and Theodore Young, both coordinators for programs with homeless veterans who come to the clinic, explained their work.
One is a project that helps vets get into public housing if they qualify. The other, Patriot House, is where veterans can get short-term help that can assist them with social services such as mental health counseling, Washburn said.
"We're standing there to provide wrap-around services," Washburn said.
Young said one of the most important services the program provides is connecting homeless veterans with local programs that can get the vets food, clothing, even job placement.
Young paraphrased his boss in explaining the needs involved in the mission they're trying to accomplish:
"As big as the VA is and as trained and built as we are to meet veterans' needs, the VA is not big enough to meet all the veterans' needs. It has to be a combination of the VA and the community."
Contact staff writer Todd South at 423-757-6347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.