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Cape agencies, VA reach out to veterans via drive-thru
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Cape agencies, VA reach out to veterans via drive-thru

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MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Larry Eisenhart was first in line Thursday morning, soon after representatives of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs finished erecting a pop-up shelter in the parking lot of the Cape May County Social Services Building in the Rio Grande section of the township.

The VA members joined representatives of county organizations to form a short line, ready to talk veterans through the available services. Jacqueline Hinker, a VA community outreach specialist, said part of her job is to be where veterans are, to let them know about benefits and programs to which they are entitled.

Thursday morning was a little different, though. While other years, veteran resource events have been held at the Convention Center in Wildwood and other large venues, this was the first time one was held as a drive-thru.

The event was designed to reach veterans safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the first one. It’s definitely something we should carry forward,” Hinker said.

Alicia Kagan, a veterans service officer with the state Division of Veterans Services, said the setup is an excellent option for veterans with mobility issues or others who may be reluctant to attend a more traditional event. They can stay in their cars and have representatives come to them, which may be a good option for many even without COVID-19.

Eisenhart, of North Wildwood, said he heard about the drive-thru event on the radio and decided to check it out. He served in the Army in the early 1970s. He described himself as lucky to be stationed in Germany at the time, during the war in Vietnam. It also was where he learned the meaning of his name from a German woman. It translates to “hard as iron.”

He said he received some good information from the representatives.

“Now I’ve got some forms to fill out,” he said.

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“We’ve found that a lot of veterans don’t know all of the services they are entitled to,” said Cheryl Spaulding, community justice coordinator with the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office. She was at the event as part of an outreach program of the Prosecutor’s Office to provide information on substance abuse treatment options.

Many veterans face issues with substance abuse and alcohol, she said, while others may have concerns about family members or friends. She had information about available programs and a sheet listing where the county’s Hope One van would be in the coming weeks.

Since its launch in 2018, Spaulding said, the Hope One van has had 892 visits and has given 470 people instruction in the use of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids, which has been used as an emergency treatment in overdoses.

Spaulding’s table had a variety of items as an extra enticement, including sunglasses and sparkled putty for children. Most of the tables had some items to share, whether masks or hand sanitizers. Also present were representatives of the Cape May County Veterans’ Bureau and the county Department of Aging and Disability Services.

Hinker said a future event is likely at the county center under construction at the former Kmart shopping center, just up the road at Routes 9 and 47. When completed, the center will include county services and a VA clinic.

She said she tries to get across to veterans that the VA is not an insurance, but rather a health service. Many veterans are reluctant to seek services, she said, out of concern it may take services from someone who needs them more.

But she said the services follow the numbers, which means the more veterans who sign up, the more services will be available.

“Once veterans find that out, that they will be helping their brothers-in-arms, they can’t wait to sign up,” she said.

Her primary objective is to reach veterans who need help, she said, saying she can be reached at any time at 302-304-5509.

Those who need more information about substance abuse prevention services in Cape May County can call Hope One at 609-522-4375 or visit the Hope One van whenever it is parked at local events.

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