American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Loudon County came together Saturday in Lenoir City in hopes of providing valuable assistance to those who served their country.
From 10 a.m.-2 p.m. veterans made their way into the War Memorial Building as part of the first Loudon County Veterans Resources and Job Fair Program. Veteran posts represented were VFW 12135 and 5150, along with American Legion 70, 120 and 256.
“A feeling that their county’s here to help them, whatever needs they have that we can possibly do,” John Lacko, event chairman and VFW 12135 representative, said. “Our veterans service officer for Loudon County’s out there in point position at the table and his secretary’s out there. They’re there to answer questions and get them some type of military help if they need it.
“Just, again, if we can help one of these guys one way or the other find a job or get the answers to their questions or cut through the governmental red tape to try to get somewhere, I think that that’s what it’s all about,” he added.
Visitors were able to speak with local employers and job coaches as part of a job fair and with Good Neighbors Shoppe and Good Samaritan Center representatives about services. Free lunch was provided by Wampler’s. Visitors were also given a list of veterans services. General medical screenings and consultations from Covenant Health and general legal assistance from Loudon County Bar Association were scheduled, but Lacko said neither were in attendance.
“We wanted to do something for the veterans that maybe they’re not getting down here, like legal attention, medical attention, resource information and most of all jobs,” Lacko said.
The idea was conceived in October by Lacko after having little luck reaching veterans from outside Tellico Village during a picnic held by VFW Post 12135 the past couple years.
“There’s kind of been a division between Tellico Village and the rest of Loudon County as you know, so consequently with that we wanted to reach out to the veterans of Loudon County who may not have access to computers and cellphones and things like that,” Lacko said.
Hopes were to have 100-200 veterans appear from Loudon and surrounding counties. In a follow-up interview, Lacko said 32 people visited Saturday. He believes that number will grow in the coming years. Hopes are to hold the event at least once a year.
Saturday was about “veterans helping veterans,” he said.
“I know one guy who’s 72 years old and he’s looking for a job,” John Houser, American Legion Post 70 commander, said. “So they’re of all ages from 20 years, like I just said, up into their 70s. … Biggest thing for me is that they come back and they’ve been gone years or they moved here from somewhere else and they don’t know anybody. They’re not connected for jobs or for where to find housing.”
The American Job Center Tennessee Veterans Outreach lined up 16 employers to accept applications and give interviews. Lacko noted Dennis Drake, VFW Post 12135 public information officer, and David Webb, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development local veterans employment representative, were valuable for helping make the job fair possible. Webb, who works at the American Job Center in Knoxville, advocates for the hiring of veterans.
“The military guys are kind of a broad spectrum,” Webb said. “They do a lot of different things, and one of the problems that I have to work with them when they get out is deciding what you want to do, because they’ll show you a resume that’s five pages and it’s full of great stuff but an employer reads it and they go, ‘What job do you want?’ So I try to help them get focused and get their resume more pinpointed to a certain position.”
New Loudon County Veterans Service Officer Alvin Wagner welcomed visitors and verified they were veterans. For him, the day was about informational awareness.
“We want to let our veterans know that we are here to assist them in obtaining their earned VA benefits specific to medical care,” Wagner said. “After we verify they’re a veteran with their DD214, we file the appropriate paperwork, which is a power of attorney, and an intent to file. The day they come in if they bring in a DD214 we can do an intent to file and everything is retroactive to that date.”
Gregory Buckles, who served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, visited on the recommendation of a friend.
“I’ve been back in the Roane County area for almost two years and it seems like some of the jobs are who you know and whatever type of scenario,” Buckles said. “… I’ve been self-employed the last 20 years so I’m really kind of making a transition and passing my business down to my kids, and I’m looking to maybe get something that has some benefits since I’ve been without benefits for almost the last 15 years or so as self-employed.”
Lacko hoped Saturday served as a way to let veterans know of the resources available in Loudon County.
“Helping them out for a day is one thing,” Houser said. “Getting them a job and having them be able to help themselves. … This is what we’re trying to get into the hands of the veterans. ‘Oh, this is where the VA representative is. Here’s where the clinic is,’ all the way through.”