Veterans helping veterans through LVMAC
The Lehigh Valley is home to an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 veterans, with another 150,000 family members of veterans living in the region. The nonprofit Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council (LVMAC) aims to help them all.
Founded in 2003 by a group of concerned veterans, LVMAC is an organization of organizations. It was formed to address local problems by harnessing and integrating existing resources, or create additional resources when necessary, for the benefit of our veterans. LVMAC serves the military, active, reserve or retired, and their families.
“We wanted to increase communication and leadership among the leaders of the many existing veterans’ organizations in the Lehigh Valley,” said Colonel Michael Vath, Second Vice President of the Board of Directors for LVMAC. “Today we have around 190 different veterans organizations that are members of our organization. We are also proud to have all of the local hospitals and health networks as partners, and to have their staff members represented on our committees.”
Vath became involved with the volunteer-driven organization about two years after it started. Considering that LVMAC has no paid full-time staff and only one part-time administrative staff member, it’s impressive what the dedicated team of volunteers has been able to accomplish.
“We work together on projects and programs, and have a dozen or more going at any time. The emphasis and direction changes from year to year,” explained Vath. “How we help our vets has changed over the years based on how the wars we fight have changed. We can tailor a program to a specific set of needs that vets from a particular war or service period are facing.”
The group gathers feedback from its member organizations on what issues and concerns they are each seeing from the veterans they serve. Health care and homelessness continue to come up as topics that need to be addressed on an ongoing basis.
Veterans and Health Care
Most vets receive treatment at health networks and hospitals around the Lehigh Valley even though they are entitled to health care from the Veterans Administration (VA). As WWII veterans continue to age and a newer generation of vets with different health issues seek treatment, it became apparent that a method was needed to identify veterans upon hospital admission. Early identification as a veteran could help the care team determine if the patient’s symptoms are related to where they served and potential environmental conditions to which they may have been exposed.
LVMAC members worked with students at Muhlenberg College in Allentown to develop a patient intake questionnaire for healthcare professionals to use in identifying veterans and determining if the patient’s medical issue might be related to their service in any way. This allows the medical team to better treat the patient while also helping to track the service-related illnesses.
Helping Homeless Vets
Citing homelessness as an ongoing issue for veterans, the organization has focused its most recent efforts on helping to assist those vets that are either currently homeless or are about to become homeless. LVMAC has applied for grants specifically for homeless veterans and works with Victory House in Bethlehem, which helps to temporarily house them.
“We also try to assist the homeless vets to make sure they see doctors by taking them to their appointments, or to see their VA case managers when needed,” Vath said. “We will also provide short-term funds on an individual case-by-case basis to help keep a vet in their home. We’ve even assisted with employment by getting a company who supports vets to hire someone in need of a job.”
“LVMAC was asked to serve on the Mayor’s Committee on Homeless Veterans in Allentown, which also features leaders from the city and Lehigh County,” said Vath. “Each county in the Commonwealth has Veterans Service Officers that report to the County Executive. This individual helps vets with their VA benefits by assisting them with paperwork and securing the official documentation from the government that is needed to apply for benefits.”
Other initiatives include a Veterans Visitation Program that brings volunteers to veterans in over 90 local nursing homes, personal care residences, and assisted living facilities. LVMAC also coordinates information fairs to help veterans connect with the various member organizations and the services they offer.
“We have also helped start a Blue Star Mothers group for women who have a child serving on active duty in the military. The group sends care packages to troops on active duty,” he said. “By working together, our member organizations provide an overall continuum of care for veterans in our region, and I’m really proud of that,” Vath concluded.
The Rider-Pool Foundation is honored to be a supporter of LVMAC. Since 2005, 11 grants to LVMAC have helped enable their work with veterans throughout the Lehigh Valley. The Rider-Pool Foundation would like to express its gratitude to all those who have served in the U.S. military and their family members for their commitment and sacrifices in making this the greatest country on Earth.