NEWS | Nov. 4, 2015

VA Efforts in Lowcountry

By Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs mission is to fulfill President Lincoln's promise, "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan," by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's veterans. Unfortunately, the VA has been in the news lately for not meeting their mission in some parts of the country.

While veterans may have had negative experiences in the past, the VA office in Charleston is working to meet the needs of veterans throughout the Lowcountry.

"We must improve the performance of healthcare now," said Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. "We're looking at ways to restructure and reorganize, combine functions, simplify operations, make process improvements, leverage technology and enhance efficiency and productivity."

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, opened in 1966, consists of one primary, secondary and tertiary care facility located in downtown Charleston, S.C. It serves over 67,000 veterans in 21 counties, encompassing more than 15,000 square miles. Additionally, the VA opened a Community Resource and Referral Center in North Charleston to assist veterans in a number of ways including: finding housing, clothing and job assistance, etc.

To help veterans understand their benefits or to encourage them to return after a negative experience, there are people like Don Morillo who assist those in need.

"I'm the director for veteran's affairs for Charleston County" said Morillo. "I'm the overseer for all of the veterans in the low country and I have found some of the older veterans don't understand the benefits or just don't know about them," said Morillo. "Some may have had a bad experience with getting their benefits and we try to bring them back and let them know how good the VA hospital is here."

As part of ongoing efforts to reach out to veterans, on Oct. 30, 2015, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center partnered with Goodwill Industries of Lower South Carolina and Palmetto Warrior Connection to host its 16th annual Stand Down Against Veteran Homelessness. The event was held at the new CRRC.

"We're holding Stand Down here at the CRRC because we wanted to really showcase this new facility that opened in June, " said Hugh Myrick, Chief of Mental health at the Charleston VAMC. "The annual Stand Down events meet a critical need for our homeless veterans but we found it wasn't enough. We needed to do more. This facility helps us meet that goal - to provide a mini Stand Down every day. Veterans can come here anytime and get connected with those who can help them get back on their feet."

A Vietnam War veteran himself, Morillo wants to do all he can to assure his veterans are well taken care of and have their needs met.

"I served four years in the U.S. Air Force and spent one year in Vietnam," said Morillo. "Being a veteran myself, we care about our other veterans very much. They are family"

"We try our very best to support these veterans in need," said Morillo.

"There are so many benefits for the veterans in the low country," said Morillo. "The downtown VA hospital has dental and medical programs (including flu vaccinations), PTSD assistance and other programs as well."

For more information on the VA in Charleston, please visit: www.charleston.va.gov