Five years ago, a survey showed more than 174,000 veterans lived in a 14-county East Texas area with the least amount of resources available to help them.
Smith County is in its center — part of an area representing the second largest veteran population in the state of Texas and home to nearly 1.5 million veterans.
Getting help then often meant visiting multiple agencies, some as far away as Dallas or Shreveport.
“We have a lot of veterans that are destitute, as you would say. They may be hungry, they have no money, they could be out of a job,” said Mark Shaw, noting that even finding transportation represented a barrier for some veterans trying to get help from multiple agencies.
CampV — Community Assisting Military Personnel and Veterans — opened in Tyler in 2019 as a way to provide coordinated care. The 20-acre campus on west Front Street operates with one main mission in mind: providing every resource a veteran may need in one place.
“We’re a one stop shop, as we like to call it,” Shaw, CampV’s community engagement manager, said.
From 2020 through 2021, CampV had 379 clients and 900 appointments. Those figures increased to 924 clients and 2,300 appointments last year. “2022 isn’t over yet, but we are on pace to beat that very easily,” Shaw said.
CampV offers resources to help cover a veteran’s physical, mental and financial health needs.
It offers Humana insurance at a low cost to veterans in need, as well as veteran caregivers who can offer in-home assistance to those with reduced capabilities.
CampV, in partnership with the Andrews Center, offers on-site counseling services and peer groups, Shaw said.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is incredibly common for veterans, with the number of veterans with PTSD varying depending on their military service areas, according to information from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to the VA, the percentage of PTSD in military action is:
- Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom: between 11-20% of those who served
- Gulf War: about 12% of those who served
- Vietnam War: about 15% of those who served
Some studies have found Korean War veterans have the highest rate of PTSD (41%), according to Veterans Health Today.
CampV also has an on-site suicide prevention counselor. Texas has the third highest suicide rate for veterans and the fifth highest for homeless veterans, Shaw said.
The most recent collection of data from the VA reflects that veterans accounted for 13.7% of death by suicide in 2019. On average, 17 American veterans die by suicide every day.
“As long as veteran suicide numbers are annually in the thousands, there is no sense of mission accomplishment or satisfaction within VA … Suicide prevention, therefore, remains a top priority for VA,” the report said.
A lot of veterans come to CampV for financial assistance. “The more this economy becomes extrinsic, we have had more veterans come in and require assistance with things. People’s dollars are not going as far these days,” Shaw said.
CampV offers up to $500 in direct assistance per year to veterans who may need help paying bills. In 2021, the organization paid out $38,000 in direct assistance, Shaw said.
Every Tuesday, CampV offers free meals to veterans and their families. They delivered over 400 meals in 2021. Also on Tuesdays, a representative from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is on site to assist veterans who may need help paying for food.
The organization also offers assistance helping veterans searching for a job in partnership with Texas Workforce Solutions.
“We also have a business center which gives them the capability to work on resumes or search for jobs,” Shaw said.
Officials recognize some veterans may not have transportation to CampV for assistance, which is why they have a partnership with both Tyler Transit and GoBus to offer reduced rates or free bus passes based on financial need.
CampV is expected to soon have onsite veteran service officers who can help veterans navigate the local, state and federal resources available to them.
In April 2021, CampV opened a center just for women. “The Women’s Center is dedicated solely to female veterans and the female spouses of veterans. They have everything from art classes to peer groups, and they have other groups that get together such as a female entrepreneur group or a healthy living group,” Shaw said.
“There are just some women who don’t feel comfortable around men, so they have their dedicated center so women can go and feel safe and be in their zone so they can do what they do to make their life better,” he said.
The Women’s Center is expected to offer counseling to those with military-related sexual trauma. Of those who use VA health care, 23% of women reported sexual assault when in the military. 55% of women and 38% of men have experienced sexual harassment while in the military, according to the VA.
CampV is dedicated to ensuring the confidentiality of veterans who may need these services. To receive MST care, contact CampV and ask for Vicki.
More CampV services are listed here.
As a nonprofit, CampV receives no state or federal funding and relies solely on fundraising and donations to fund their programs. “Donations are what keeps us alive. All of that goes straight back to the veteran,” Shaw said.
CampV’s largest annual fundraising event, the Rose City Airfest, is scheduled for July 1. Tickets are $25 pre purchased, and $30 at the door. Each general admission ticket includes one free child’s ticket, and each additional child’s ticket is $5. The aircraft exhibit is open from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the airshow begins at 6 p.m.
Kelly Camera is a freelance writer graduated with her B.S. in Journalism from Tennessee Tech University. After graduation, she moved to Florida to pursue a career of making magic at Walt Disney World. She recently graduated with her M.S. in Organizational Leadership and continues to reside in Florida with her fur baby Cleo.
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