Services available to veterans in River Valley, Arkansas

Alex Gladden
Fort Smith Times Record
Mauricio Gonzalez, the chief veteran service officer for Sebastian County, discusses veteran services speaks about services offered to veterans.

While numerous organizations are dedicated to serving veterans in the Fort Smith area, officials say that some still fall through the cracks. 

Mauricio Gonzalez, the chief veteran service officer for Sebastian County, said that Zachary Arnold, who shot and killed 87-year-old Lois Hicks, is the perfect example of this.

Arnold was an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan from 2015 to 2018. He was honorably discharged and was receiving treatment for PTSD, Gonzalez said. 

Although it is rare, PTSD can sometimes manifest in violent actions, Gonzalaz added. 

Kris Jossi, Arnold's neighbor who was at home during the May 15 shooting, called upon authorities to better serve veterans. He said the tragedy represents a failure to take care of veterans.

“They fight for us. They need our care," Jossi said. 

Gonzalez noted that part of the problem surrounding PTSD is the stigma against seeking care.

Many veterans do not want to appear weak, he said. But PTSD is a serious disorder. It can cause nightmares and prevent people from sleeping or holding down a job. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs handles the psychiatric side of treatment. Gonzalez said that mental health care has vastly improved in recent years. 

The Veterans Center in Fayetteville is also a place where veterans can receive care for PTSD. 

At the Sebastian County Veterans Office, where Gonzalez works, he helps veterans navigate the VA. His office also helps older veterans get into nursing homes or assisted- living facilities. The also help homeless vets find housing. 

“Anything we can do to make their lives easier and help them through the quagmire," Gonzalez said. 

The office also helps veterans enroll for compensation and pension as well as health care enrollment. 

Gonzalez said that people come to his office from all over the state and even from surrounding states.

“If you’re out there and you think you need help, come see us," Gonzalez said.

Disabled American Veterans

Area veterans can also seek help from Disabled American Veterans, an organization that is entirely run by volunteers. Jeannette Hartsfield is a service officer for the Fort Smith chapter of the Disabled American Veterans. 

Hartsfield served in the U.S. Army Reserve for about four years and the Army National Guard for 10 years. She works with veterans to file claims with the VA and said it can be extremely difficult for veterans to navigate the VA.

“It’s very hard for a veteran to know how they can get help," Hartsfield said. 

Hartsfield said that many veterans just do not know what to do.  

“Veterans have more power and more say so in their health issues in their health care than what they realize they do," Hartsfield said. 

Her No. 1 goal is getting veterans the information they need to make the most informed decision.

“This system can serve you but it tends to be a crooked system that would be the VA," Hartsfield said.

Veterans can also join Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion for help navigating the VA and for camaraderie.

Resources 

Veterans Crisis Line: (800) 273-8255

Sebastian County Veterans Office: (479) 782-3421, 35 S. 6th St. Room G-6, Fort Smtih, AR 72901.

Veterans of Foreign Wars: (479) 783-8394, 3005 Tilles Ave., Fort Smith, AR 72901.

Disabled American Veterans: (479) 646-0928, 12912 Tuscany St., Fort Smith, AR 72916. The hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

American Legion: (479) 782-6719, 4901 Midland Blvd., Fort Smith, AR 72904.