Coffee house opens up in Danielson

CAFCA | May 11, 2015 |

 The Killingly Community Center cafeteria was packed on April 14 for a veterans' coffeehouse. Sponsored by the Thames Valley Council on Community Action, the coffeehouse will be held twice a month in Danielson. It will be open to all veterans as a place to gather, socialize and get information or assistance on the benefits they're entitled to.

e coffeehouse is just one of the programs sponsored by the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, which falls under the TVCCA umbrella. RSVP Coordinator Greg Kline said the service project for veterans came about after a conversation he had with Marylou Underwood, TVCCA's CEO. "She asked what we could do for a veterans' project in this area," Kline recalled. "She asked what I thought about sponsoring a coffeehouse. But it's much more than that."

The event will be held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month from 9 a.m. to noon. Vets will be welcome to socialize, enjoy board games, watch television, and also to get access to information. Eventually volunteers will be available to answer specific questions. Kline envisions it as a clearinghouse of sorts, where veterans, family members and caregivers can get information or at least get pointed in the right direction.

The location will be moved from the cafeteria to a private space currently occupied by resident troopers. That space has a private area where counseling could potentially take place. Kline hopes to arrange office hours for Veterans Service Office Jeannie Gardiner, an Afghan vet employed by Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sen. Mae Flexer attended the opening. "It's important for a few reasons," she said. "It gives veterans the opportunity to get together. Camaraderie is important. It's also nice to have a space where vets can talk about the needs they have that aren't being met and to learn about services that are available to them."

Pomfret's Municipal Agent for Veterans' Affairs Garry Brown sees the coffeehouse as a outreach service for veterans. "There's no place they can go for questions or guidance on VA issues and benefits," he said. "The people in the VA are fantastic, but when you call with questions, it can be frustrating." It can be difficult to find someone who can answer your questions, or you might get passed from one department to another, he said. "Most guys don't want to go through that," he said.

The problem is, there are many benefits veterans just don't know about. And some of those benefits come with very specific restrictions. Take WW II vets for instance. There's a possibility that some are eligible for a monetary pension if they served in an occupied country between 1941 and 1953. The benefit is income limited, but Brown estimates nine out of 10 veterans don't know it exists.

Brown has spent a lot of time explaining the advantages and disadvantages of coordinatingMedicare and VA benefits. "A lot of guys have income limitations," he said. "I explain the pluses and minuses of paying for Medicare if they're over 65. It's their decision. It's a choice they make based on their personal situations. If they don't have to pay $104 for Medicare, that's $104 they can spend on something else."

While the medical benefits can be excellent, there are glitches to the VA system. Lab results haven't always been shared between facilities in different states. And for vets in northeastern Connecticut, that poses a particular problem. Transportation is an issue. The nearest Connecticut VA clinic is not in Windham County, so it's not serviced by the Northeastern Connecticut Transit District. Passengers would have to transfer to the Windham Rural Transit District.

"I can't see old guys getting out of a bus on Route 6 in Chaplin to transfer to another bus," Kline said.

Dennis Richards came to the opening to get information on benefits for which he might be eligible. Richards started his military career with the Army in 1966 but transferred to the Coast Guard in 1969. He went back into the Army's Active Guard Reserve and served from 1983 to 1987. Those transfers came with classification changes that complicate matters.

Edgar Muniz served with the Marines from 1966 to 1978. "You can meet other vets here," he said. "Even though people are going through different situations, you can appreciate one another. A vet might feel more secure about talking. Some don't want to talk with people who have never been in their shoes."

Maurice Labrecque, who served on the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. during WW II, came to the opening to meet other vets. "It just brings back a lot of nice memories," he said.