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Torres Small hears the lack of service from Lincoln County veterans

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Service official Doug Sabo, left, addresses some of the needs of Lincoln County veterans with the American Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.
Dianne L Stallings, Ruidoso News

Stop was short, but included many problems

A small group of disabled Vietnamese veterans operated for years as an unofficial advocacy and service organization for veterans in Lincoln County and Mescalero.

But until recently, no one except those who received help in obtaining benefits or making medical appointments seemed to notice many of the needs of the more than 2,300 veterans in the area, said Chapter 1062 Vietnam Veterans of America lawyers.

Now New Mexico & # 39; s Democratic freshman representative from the 2nd Congress district of New Mexico is listening.

US representative Xochitl Torres Small stopped in Ruidoso on Friday to meet the small group that did the work led by service official Doug Sabo. The session took place in a Subway restaurant on Mechem Drive, because the group has no office or meeting room. Metro owners Larry and Dianne Gouldman have tried to fulfill that need by offering space to Sabo when he sits down with veterans to find out how he can help them.

Xochitl Torres Small, representative of the second Congress district of New Mexico, met the disabled Vietnamese veterans on Friday to hear about a lack of services. (Photo: Dianne L. Stallings / Ruidoso News)

Klein was there to listen to what services are missing and to understand how difficult it is for Sabo to conduct conversations with veterans in such a public place. She came from Mescalero, which is in Otero County, but the Mescalero Apache reserve borders the village of Ruidoso.

More: Veteran group is looking for help, recognition and services

"Sometimes I'm here for three or four hours," he told the Smalls employee. For female veterans, the public institution is reassuring and safe, he said.

With retired and disable veterans Mike Myers, Jimmy Stratton and John McNeil at the table, Sabo explained to Small that the chapter was formed as Vietnam veterans grew older. In addition, problems and service – including exposure to Agent Orange – had to be addressed.

"Our problem here is that we are in a rural area and that we are not receiving any support," he said. "And I mean already. That's why we meet here because the owners of Subway support us, I've met dozens of veterans here and I can stay four or five hours and fill in their paperwork."

Sabo has successfully prosecuted 24 disability cases, he said.

"No one else in the state can say that, and I'm good at that, because I have a son who was in the SEAL team for eight years and I now have two active servants," he added.

He has transported 12 veterans to appointments in Albuquerque, 190 kilometers away.

"That's the place we can get closest to doing something substantial," Sab told Small. "I have attended nine times crises, veterans who went to eat their guns, I grab them and take them to Albuquerque to have them treated."

Improvements needed in the Choice program

Doug Sabo, chief of veterans of the US veterans, greets the American representative Xochitl Torres Small. (Photo: Dianne L. Stallings / Ruidoso News)

One of the other services that the group offers is the collection of gravestones for deceased veterans.

Their latest project is a homeless shelter for veterans.

He asked Small to look at the Choice program that allows veterans to seek medical help from other sources, because Sabo claims that payments are being slowed by the VA (Veterans Administration) and doctors and dentists are dropping out or not. for sign up.

"It was a big idea to start with, but if you only have one cardiologist in the province who takes that, it won't help 2,300 veterans," he said.

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Although Sabo has found that the speed with which invalidity and benefits cases are handled for Vietnamese veterans has improved, responding to other needs is not.

"Most of my Vietnam veterans are 70 years or older, so we appreciate it (the increased speed), but I have been employed for a number of years for Iraq and Afghanistan and they have heard nothing," Sabo said. "And that happened at the state level, the Albuquerque Regional Office is responsible for the judgment of these cases. I think most people think the cases go to Washington DC, but the VA consists of two branches, the administration and the medical world. & # 39;

For that reason, he has veterans hand in their papers at the Albuquerque office, he said.

Sabo brings the situation to councilors

"The beautiful pine forests, the majestic snow-covered Sierra Blanca and the safe, often quiet streets of Ruidoso are far removed from the steaming jungles of Vietnam, the hot dusty desert of Iraq or the rocky mountains of Afghanistan," Sabo said during his trip. speech under the public forum section of the Village Council meeting.

"But these distant, dangerous combat zones are where our veterans have endured unimaginable trauma, pain and long-lasting wounds and memories that are always present with many veterans living in Ruidoso and Lincoln County. Those who have not served and sacrificed for our country also often forgets or ignores the freedoms, safety and security that our military and veterans have offered us. "

Sabo said the chapter members are assisting veterans in submitting successful claims for disability, registering for medical benefits and transporting them to medical appointments in Albuquerque, El Paso and Las Cruces at their own expense.

"Our group does this and more because there is no veterans administration office, VA medical facility, transportation or assistance in what the VA itself declares is a & # 39; rural community & # 39;" Sabo said.

Officials with the office of the New Mexico Veterans Services come to Ruidoso once a month, but there is no official from the district service and "no support from the village of Ruidoso," he said.

Campaigns to promote military visits to the village are all too often aimed at promoting local businesses and do not have veteran benefits as a first priority, he argued.

"There is no homeless shelter, no viable contingency plan or funding to help veterans in need," Sabo said. "Moreover, there is no sign, plaque, statute, park or memorial in honor of our veterans, yet there are hundreds living in the village and about 2,300 in the province."

Sabo dealt with a recent case in which homeless veterans were only helped after the chapter was contacted when no other organization could help.

"This highlighted another area of ​​need, and our project to help homeless veterans began with a contract with a local motel to provide shelter, and two local restaurants to offer meals, all paid for by our organization," he said.

Need a sign

He asked councilors to assist the small group by placing a weatherproof sign on a suitable site to inform visitors that the local chapter on Vietnam veterans of America is available to help veterans in need.

"We are simply asking for recognition to help fellow veterans we have faithfully done since we were founded seven years ago," said Sabo.

Police Chief Darren Hooker, a former soldier, attended the last chapter meeting, and promised to be an intermediary for a sign.

Sabo has also learned that Zia-Tran, a public transportation system in the province, will provide free transportation through a pre-arrangement for veterans who have medical appointments.

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