With nearly 340,000 military veterans stretching across generations in the state of Oregon, there is an issue blossoming. Veterans currently are at 16 percent of the total suicides in the state, so where and who do individuals with these mental concerns turn to?
In Lake County, veteran’s service officer Charlie Pike has been assisting individuals, specifically veterans, since 2012. Since the beginning, Pike has worked with more than 400 of the 830 veterans in Lake County.
With a background having been retired from the United States Army, Pike applied for the position and due to his ability to connect with and understand veterans was hired for the job. Just talking with these individuals for 30 or so minutes is a step in the right direction, and while listening, Pike has the chance to gather evidence enough that could lead to a claim file and benefits. Often, these individuals are eligible for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, however, the claims process can be daunting.
That’s where Pike steps in.
Providing a variety of advertisement avenues, Pike distributes pens, magnets, pamphlets and dozens of other helpful forms of materials. He’s also reached out to the county through the radio, newspapers and magazines.
Unlike other counties, Pike travels weekly and even provides outreach on Mondays and possibly other days to northern Lake County, actually going door-to-door to interact with individuals. In other counties, this process might only happen once a month, but this is the reason Pike has been so successful in getting to interact with as many veterans.
An individual with this many points of contact would be lost without some help. Enter Kristen O’Hare, part-time administrative assistant who was hired about six months ago.
“She’s been a tremendous asset,” said Pike.
Without O’Hare, Pike believes he wouldn’t be able to get done nearly the same amount of work that he can now that she’s on board.
The focus for Pike is targeting and making sure the claims process avoids appeals. He’s been successful in this notion, only recalling four or five appeals in the last five years. The variety of veterans can range from the elderly to children of deceased veterans. Adding that cash distribution monthly can help veterans avoid living off their credit cards, but it’s not always about the money. Getting a veteran a hearing aid or some other form of physical aid is another avenue that can be met.
“They deserve what they should get the first try,” said Pike. “We may have something for them they’ve needed their whole life.”
Addressing the homelessness issue throughout the county and those veterans involved in it is another avenue Pike is tackling and has called upon the help of the Veterans Housing Integrator Gus Bedwell to make a trip to Lakeview in the coming weeks.
The more outreach the better and the more chances to fix the issues popping up.
Pike was recently featured in the magazine, the Ruralite for his work with Veterans Services and was pleased to see that the magazine highlighted a rather important piece of the community.
Through his work with the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, the VFW Layne Clifton Post 4070, Mental Health and perhaps just a handshake, Pike has been making strides in Lake County to be the helpful face that a veteran can reach out to.
Those individuals in need of Pikes services or information can contact the Lake County Veterans Service at 541-947-6043 for more information.