|New Veterans Outreach Office Opens in Pittsfield|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
07:38AM / Saturday, March 09, 2019
|Michael King is the case manager at the newly opened Pittsfield Veterans Outreach Center.|
The new office is on the second floor at 106 Wendell Ave.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Michael King knows firsthand that it can get tricky navigating veterans benefits programs and he's ready to help out any veteran who needs it.
"Every issue, generally speaking, has a different process to follow," King said.
He's working with somebody who changed their name after separating from the military and now needs to update their DD-214 before they can start applying for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits. He's reached out to colleges and universities to help veterans handle the GI Bill -- something he personally had trouble with at first -- and making sure veterans have all of their paperwork in order to receive everything they can.
And he's also willing to just sit and listen.
"It can be as simple as, I'm a veteran, I need somebody to talk to that speaks the language. Come on up, have a cup of coffee, and let's talk. All the way to I got a discharge and it was other than honorable and now I want to get that upgraded. I can help you do that. VA claims, the same thing, we are here to help in any way we can. We won't turn you away. We are going to help you out until we can't help you out anymore and if we can't, we will do everything we can to find the person that can help you," King said.
King is the case manager of the brand-new Pittsfield Veterans Outreach Center.
It opened on the second floor of 106 Wendell Ave. on Monday as a chapter of the non-profit Bilingual Veterans Outreach Centers of Massachusetts Inc. The organization has been in existence since 1987 with centers in Springfield and Boston. Eventually, it closed the Boston location and identified a need for additional services in Berkshire County.
"Berkshire County doesn't have a ton of resources," King said.
The office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 until 4:30 and serves as a resource for pretty much anything a veteran would need and veterans are welcome from anywhere.
The center offers a lengthy list of ways to help and King highlighted a few of those. One of the items he's been interested in is helping veterans who were not honorably discharged upgrade that status.
"Get out your DD-214, dust it off, and if you have a discharge that is not honorable, come see me. Let's see if we can upgrade it. We've got a large population of aging veterans who are reaching the end of their lives. When you die, you can't do anything about that discharge. If you don't have an honorable, the stuff your family is going to want for you is very limited, whether it is a color guard or a memorial marker from the government or having funeral expenses paid for, that's going to be an issue," King said.
He said he's making sure veterans are accounted for regarding hazards they faced during their time. He said current veterans who served in certain areas should be on the open burn pit and airborne hazard registry now so they are accounted for in the future.
"It is important for anyone who was in those areas to get in the VA system, get on the registry, so 10, 20 years down the road when it becomes a health issue it has already been identified that you were in those areas," King said.
King served in the Army for 21 years as military police before retiring in 2015. He returned to the Berkshires and eventually went back to school, earning his master's in fine and visual arts last June. He was an interim director of safety and security at Berkshire Community College until the position was filled and found the opportunity to head the new outreach center and jumped on it.
"I do miss being able to coach and mentor soldiers, help them out, and this is just an opportunity to extend that. I'm necessarily smarter than anybody, I just happen to know these processes and if I can help you navigate them, then that feels good," King said.
He is now in the process of becoming a certified veterans service officer that will allow him to have much more access to the VA system and benefits. He said he'll have that certification within three months.
In the first week since opening the office, King's focus is to let as many people know about it as he can. He's reached out to colleges to speak with the student veterans groups, he's talking with other veterans groups and asking to speak to the posts, and he is even asking to give the Pittsfield City Council a presentation so those elected officials know he can help with their constituents.
"At this point, I am networking like mad," King said.
The office is staffed by only King and secretary Kimberly Peters but he hopes to see it expand in the future. But now, it's open and if a veteran can't make it there or has accessibility issues getting to the second floor, King will come to them.
"If somebody can't make it here, we'll find a way to make it work," King said.