Veterans flocked Tuesday to the Mobile Veterans Center.
In the first hour of the five hour visit, 20 veterans learned how to access their veterans benefits.
Dennis McCaig of Jim Thorpe, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam was one of the first 20 who stopped by the van.
"I wanted to see what benefits I am eligible for," said McCaig. "I figured this was a good time since the mobile van was here."
Another veteran stopping by was Arnold Fritz of Lehighton. "I wanted to see if I was eligible for medical benefits because of the rising cost of health care. I found out I have to go to veterans centers in Allentown or Wilkes-Barre."
The 38-foot van was at the Lehighton American Legion Post 314, 314 Veterans Ave., Lehighton from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Plans are for the van to return every month. Future dates are April 26 and May 24.
State Rep. Doyle Heffley arranged for the van to visit Carbon County to assist veterans with a variety of issues.
Heffley, Henry Desrosiers, director of Veterans Affairs in Carbon County; and Fred Shaffer, commander of the Lehighton American Legion Post 314, were at the site to welcome veterans.
"Our goal is to have the van make a monthly visit to Carbon County," said Heffley. "I wanted to inform the area veterans and their families that assistance to veterans will be available in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans will be able to find information to access programs and services available in our area."
Heffley said that the van will continue to make the monthly visits as long as the van is utilized.
The number of veterans in Carbon County certainly warrants a van.
Henry Desrosiers, director of Veterans Affairs in Carbon County, said there are 6,300 veterans in Carbon County and that approximately 3,000 of them currently are not using the V.A. health system.
Heffley said that veterans are entitled to these services. Heffley said that veterans served our country and they should not feel that this is anything other than what they deserve. He said that he is pleased to offer the services to veterans.
Heffley noted that the van is also available to veterans from outlying communities.
Heffley said that Lehighton Legion Post was selected because of its easy access to the Pa. Turnpike and the wide parking lot and welcoming attitude of the Legion members.
Mark Burrier, readjustment counselor technician, said there are 50 similar vans available to veterans throughout the country and two are available in Pennsylvania.
"Most of the veterans ask similar questions," said Burrier. "They are mostly interested in veteran's benefits and want information about getting into the system. I tell them who to contact."
Burrier said that since the van is so large, it is sometime difficult to access areas which have tunnels and low bridges.
"They are designing a smaller version which we will be able to take to events in places like Washington D.C. and other urban areas we have not been able to access in the past," he said.
The van is spacious, with two private offices, satellite communication and Internet service with the V.A. Medical Centers. The van also has video conferencing and tele-health capabilities. The center offers three flat screen televisions for training and educational videos. The center is staffed with a full-time veteran driver and a veteran counselor. Appointments are not required.
More information about the center and veterans services is available at RepHeffley.com
Rep. Heffley will also post legislative information on Facebook at Facebook.com/RepHeffley or veterans can call his office at (610) 377-6363 for additional information. Heffley's Albrightsville office is also open.
Some of the services provided through the Mobile Veteran Center are:
* Individual and group counseling
* Marital and family counseling
* Bereavement counseling
* Medical referrals
* Assistance in applying for VA benefits
* Employment counseling, counseling, guidance and referrals
* Alcohol and drug assessments