Mobile claims office helps Gig Harbor veterans
The Peninsula Gateway
Arch Carpenter visited to the red, white and blue RV parked outside the Gig Harbor Civic Center last Thursday to tell a war story. The retired Army colonel and Gig Harbor resident spent 32 years in the military, including as a paratrooper in World War II.
Years down the line, that’s what brought him to the vehicle, the only one of its kind in the state. Outside, the RV is emblazoned with enough patriotic imagery for 10 Fourth of Julys. Inside, it is a mobile claims office, fully stocked to help former service members access their benefits.
“There are a lot of veterans, especially older veterans, that have no idea what they’re entitled to,” State Service Officer Erica Westling said.
Westling may be the most important piece of equipment the vehicle supplies. She’s a driver and a representative from PCMARVETS, the charity that started the service, which as various locations in Pierce County and just outside of it to help veterans file claims.
That way, any veterans who can’t make it to a claims office can have one come to them.
It’s a cause that’s dear to the organization that operates the Washington vehicle. The group of Marine Corps veterans is committed to helping its community and military members.
“When we came home, it was not really a great homecoming,” said Kelley Byers, co-founder and Vietnam veteran.
When a grant from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians became available earlier this year, Byers knew exactly where he wanted to spend the money. Vehicles like the PCMARVETS mobile office exist other places in the country, but there were none in Washington. The group partnered with AMVETS, a veterans’ service organization, to purchase and outfit an RV and hire a service officer to extend the reach of stationary offices.
The office has helped more than 100 former service members from all wars and all military branches since it became operational in May, but its assistance is not limited to filing claims.
“It’s kind of like a coffee stop for all of these guys,” said Donna Buck, a volunteer driver.
Veterans come to chat and network with each other about all sorts of things. On the vehicle’s most recent monthly visit to Gig Harbor, Robert Daugherty of Olalla came by to say hello after he took his granddaughters to the nearby skate park. The office previously helped him file a claim to upgrade his disability rating sustained during his 21-year Army career. He had visited several other agencies but wasn’t having any luck with his claim.
It was different at the mobile office.
“It was pretty nice because somebody actually listened,” Daugherty said.
He came back to the truck just to say hello and to shoot the breeze with Byers.
When Carpenter left, he did the same thingafter Westling helped him sort out his claim, of course.
That’s the part Westling loves about her job. The process of claiming benefits is complex, and Westling appreciates acting as a guide.
The stories are pretty good, too.
“I’ve heard and seen so many pictures and stories,” she said. “The things these guys have been through are amazing.”
The PCMARVETS mobile veterans claims office goes to each of its locations, including Gig Harbor and Key Center, at least once a month. To find out when it will be in the area, visit pcmarvets.com.
Lifestyles coordinator and reporter Marisa Petrich can be reached at 253-358-4152 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_marisa.