Antelope Valley opens to assist veterans

“Hope, recovery and well-being” are the trilogy of qualities driving a new program called Veterans Peer Access Network, which recently opened an office in Lancaster, Calif., to serve area veterans and military families needing assistance to overcome some critical situation.

Veterans Peer Access Network, commonly called VPAN, is a community driven, peer outreach program that aims to alleviate pervasive issues such as homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse and suicide that all too often plague service members transitioning from military to civilian life.

This Los Angeles County-based program, the first prototype for the nation, relies on trained veterans and military family peers to reach service members on the verge of crisis and connect them with earned benefits and services by navigating a complicated process.

Rally Point, the new JVS SoCal area office, is located at 237 East Columbia Way, Lancaster and the phone number is 661-268-6739. A veterans’ support phone line provided by L.A. County’s Department of Mental Health can be reached at (800) 854-7771, press 3. This line is available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Anywhere from 50 to 100 calls a week or more of veterans seeking assistance come through the support line. There callers can receive information about housing, food resources and an array of other services.

VPAN combines the efforts of L.A. County departments including the Department of Mental Health; the L.A. County Board of Supervisors; nonprofit groups; the Veterans Administration and Los Angeles City programs.

L.A. County Department of Military & Veterans Affairs; Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative; and the Veterans Crisis Line are all engaged in this effort.

Army veteran Jim Zenner is the VPAN program manager at the Department of Mental Health, where he also manages countywide other veteran and military family programs. He can be reached through email at jzenner@dmh.lacounty.gov.

Army veteran Jim Zenner, the VPAN Program Manager at DMH, is in the middle, surrounded by staff at a Stand Down event in 2019. (Courtesy photograph)

In a written statement when VPAN was in the works about two years ago, Zenner said, L.A. County is forging a “pathbreaking community-based approach to veteran care.”

That effort expanded significantly in mid-2020 when the L.A. County-funded Veterans Peer Access Network became fully operational.

“Care becomes personal when you walk people into places that serve their needs,” Zenner said. “The only way we’ll begin to tackle issues like veteran suicide and homelessness is to start taking things personally – and make the experience personal for them.”

VPAN works closely with an organization which runs the largest homeless program in the United States and has resources to house more than 9,400 homeless veterans through emergency, transitional and permanent housing.

In addition to connecting veterans with mental health treatment resources, substance misuse support and housing issues, VPAN helps service members in obtaining workforce development and employment services, education enrollment, financial assistance, and legal services.

Mayors of Lancaster and Palmdale both expressed appreciation for having a local VPAN office.

“Clearly there’s a need,” said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. “A significant number of homeless and jobless people in the Antelope Valley are veterans.”

Parris said the VPAN office is “certainly welcome. Hopefully they will be able to make a difference.”

“The AV has a very large veteran population,” said Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer. “The takeaway on this — our military veterans often face some unique challenges in transitioning back to civilian life.”

“Programs like this can help veterans by working with their unique issues,” Hofbauer said. “Not everybody is equipped to deal with those unique problems. This program is.”

L.A. County has the “highest concentration of military veterans in the country,” according to the Department of Mental Health website at https://dmh.lacounty.gov/veterans.

The Department of Mental Health makes hiring veterans as “battle buddies” a priority, relying on systems navigators to connect their comrades “in need” with resources to help. The website says veterans “deserve hope, well-being and a greater quality of life as valued members of the L.A. County community.”

Roberto Alvarez is the VPAN contact at the office of County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger. He can be reached through email at RAlvarez@bos.lacounty.gov.

VPAN publishes a monthly newsletter called Los Angeles County VPAN News, which provides an overview of the Veterans Peer Access Network.

The publication told the story of a 26-year-old Army veteran, an expectant father, experiencing financial distress “and severe anxiety.”

Because he had difficulty “navigating the VA system and was in danger of losing his home,” he contacted VPAN peer Remi Lafayette of the USS Iowa. Remi helped gather significant records and aided the young father-to-be through the process.

With Remi’s help the veteran received a direct deposit of $20,000 in back pay owed him because, as Remi put it, “He should’ve been at 100% years ago.” Furthermore, peers assisted the veteran with a plan to reduce anxiety, which resulted in full-time work for him.

Aside from the Antelope Valley VPAN office, other locations throughout L.A. County include:
* JVS SoCal, 1180 Durfee Avenue, South El Monte
* Volunteers of America, 700 N. Bullis Road, Compton
* Goodwill SoCal, 10324 Balboa Boulevard, Granada Hills
* Battleship USS Iowa, 250 S. Harbor Boulevard, Los Angeles

VPAN Headquarters is at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall, 1816 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles.

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