By JESSICA PICKETT
I want to start off by telling my fellow veterans thank you for your service and welcome home.
Upon my discharge from the military, after initially planning on making it my career, I was left wondering where to go from there. During my time in the Army, I had met and served with some of the best people and leaders that a person could ever ask to meet. I was part of a team and ultimately a family that I knew would do anything for me, and I would do anything for them in return. I went to war and back with these people and could truly tell you anything and everything about them.
After redeploying from Iraq in 2004, I was off to a new duty station to meet my new unit and the soldiers there. Shortly after reporting to my new duty station, it was brought to me that I was no longer fit to serve in the military because of medical conditions that were both caused by and exacerbated by my service. I was devastated, not only because my future was now so uncertain, but also because my new unit was preparing to deploy to Iraq for the first time. I would not get to be a part of this, but I knew that I had to move on to the next phase in my life.
During my outprocessing, there was so much information provided to me that it left me feeling completely overwhelmed. Despite these feelings, I was able to catch a few fundamental details of where I could and should go for assistance and guidance, and that place was the VA.
As a little bit of a back story, my grandfather was a Korean War veteran who was medically retired from the Army at the age of 19 due to his war injuries and has since passed away. He was extremely proud to be a veteran and was as patriotic as they come. As a kid, I would travel with him and my grandmother around the country each and every year so that he could see his fellow Korean War veterans at their annual reunions. I would sit and listen to their stories, beaming with pride that my grandfather had been able to be a part of such a family and that I was able to be a part of that family too. This is part of the reason I ultimately decided to join the military, specifically the Army.
As a result of my sense of pride and patriotism, it was an easy decision to become part of the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn team at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System in Danville. As the transition patient advocate for the OEF/OIF/OND team, my role is to assist these veterans in accessing health care, benefits and any resources needed that will aid in their readjustment. Our team provides these veterans with all-around care and access to resources, no matter where they are located in the 37 counties in our catchment area. The OEF/OIF/OND team is here to provide veterans with guidance in regards to where they need to go to accomplish whatever their goals might be. Our staff is dedicated to the success of our veterans.
As an OEF/OIF/OND combat veteran, you may be eligible to receive five years of postdischarge, cost-free care through the VA for any combat-related conditions. This care also can be accessed at any of our five community-based clinics throughout central Illinois and western Indiana (Decatur, Mattoon, Peoria, Springfield and West Lafayette), as well as in our main facility in Danville. If you need assistance or have questions for yourself or a loved one, please contact me, Jessica Pickett, at 217-554-5123. Thank you to all veterans past, present and future.
Jessica Pickett is the transition patient advocate for the OEF/OIF/OND team at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System in Danville. VA staff members will contribute monthly columns on the type of services and new initiatives available for veterans in East Central Illinois.