Clark, who has an office at the Community Action Team building at 125 N. 17th Street in St. Helens, has been doing monthly outreach visits to Vernonia, Clatskanie and Rainier in an effort to reach more veterans.
“I’m not seeing as many clients as I had anticipated, to be quite honest,” said Clark during his most recent visit to the Vernonia community on August 6th. “That is one of the reasons I want to do these outreaches-to try to get out into the communities to see more clients.”
Clark provides services for veterans, claimants and survivors. He helps veterans get enrolled into the VA health system. He also assists veterans who were injured while in the service and have a current disability related to that injury. Clark helps them submit their claim and through the benefits process. Clark also helps veterans who may be eligible to receive a VA pension. “VA pensions are usually for veterans who, for whatever circumstances, are barely making it in the world,” says Clark. “The idea of the pension is to provide them with some assistance to allow them to survive and live.” Clark also helps veterans access the many education benefits that are available to them.
Clark has committed to visiting each community in Columbia County once each month; currently he plans to be in Vernonia on the first Tuesday of each month. His next visit is scheduled for September 3rd from 12:00 to 7:00 PM at the Vernonia Community Learning Center, 939 Bridge Street. Walk-ins are encouraged.
Clark has also been meeting with veterans over breakfast on the first Friday of each month. Those veteran breakfasts are held at the Village Inn in St. Helens at 8:00 AM. “This is a chance for them to ask me specific questions and also promote some camaraderie among the local veterans,” says Clark. “I encourage anyone who wants to join us to come down.”
Clark is making a real effort to reach out and find the veterans that need the assistance and services he is here to provide. “The biggest thing I want people to know is that I am available for the veterans,” says Clark. “I think in the past the Veterans Service Officers have not been very proactive about getting out into the communities to do outreach,” says Clark. “That is one of the things I am trying to change.”
Clark says that, not only is he visiting the communities to make it easier for veterans to see him, but he is also willing to make home visits in order to reach vets that have mobility or travel issues.
“My philosophy is that I shouldn’t require a veteran who lives more than fifteen or twenty miles away to drive to St. Helens just to do a claim,” explains Clark. “I’m here to support the entire county, including housebound vets.” Clark says he is also able to visit and help veterans living in nursing homes who may need additional assistance.
Clark entered the Army at the age of twenty-five and served twenty-one years of active duty. He served as a company and battalion commander in both joint operations and special operations. After retiring from the service he worked for several years as a regional manager for an internet company before joining the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs as a Veteran Service Officer. From there he moved to the Veterans Benefits Administration, working for the federal government, where he adjudicated veterans claims. Most recently he was offered this opportunity to work in his home town in Columbia County-he lives in St. Helens-and work directly with veterans.
Clark says the majority of veterans he sees are baby boomers who served during the Vietnam War. He says he rarely sees Korean War vets and that World War II vets are dying at a rate of five to six thousand per day. He says that he wants to get the word out to those veterans who are returning from Afghanistan and Iraq that services and assistance are available. “Let’s not wait ten years from now, let’s get them into the system now.”
Clark is also interested in working with the various local service organizations including the American Legion and the VFW. “They are very important and do great things in our communities,” says Clark. “I enjoy working with those groups and I’m available to help them as well.”
You can reach Russ Clark at 503-397-6580 or 503-397-3511 ext 275. Office hours in St. Helens are Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM.