Terrence van Doorn is a veterans service representative for Stanislaus County, helping veterans and their dependents obtain services such as post-traumatic stress counseling, health care, housing and survivor benefits. He served with the Marine Corps in Iraq, and his firsthand experience with limited civilian jobs for returning soldiers was detailed in previous Bee stories. On Dec. 14, 2004, van Doorn was in the same firefight that took the life of Cpl. Michael Anderson Jr. of Modesto, the first soldier from Stanislaus County killed in Iraq. A fellow squad leader, van Doorn pulled Anderson from a burning house where he had been struck by gunfire.
Van Doorn was asked about his work with local veterans.
Q: What did you do during your tour of duty in Iraq?
A: I was an infantry squad leader in the Marine Corps, assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. Our unit took part in the Battle of Fallujah in November 2004. My hero is Cpl. Michael Anderson Jr., who was team leader and point man in my squad. I was a patrol leader with the mission of house-to-house clearing in search of insurgents. We went on missions with support elements of tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, Air Force dog handlers, SEALs and Marine reconnaissance teams. After our higher-ups deemed the local populace could return to Fallujah, we made sure their voting sites were secure to protect Iraqi civilians from any threats. The mission later changed to training the Iraqi army so they could take over the city.
Q: How did your experience in Iraq enhance your work with veterans in Stanislaus County?
A: My military experience, and especially combat experience in Iraq, has allowed me to develop a rapport with veterans and their families. I am able to empathize with veterans who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, because I have been down that road. I can relate to widows and other dependents that lost their loved ones, because I lost brothers in front of me on the battlefield. I developed a mindset of turning my experience and adversity into something more positive. I focus my energy on fully providing for the veterans needs to look out for their health and welfare.
Q: I understand you recently found housing for a homeless veteran?
A: I knew a veteran who needed help financially and had been living on the streets. With the help of the nonprofit Welcome Home Heroes, we were able to provide this Iraq veteran with a couple of weeks of housing through Community Housing and Shelter Services and buy him groceries. One day, his bike was stolen when we had an appointment together, and the whole County Aging and Veteran Services department chipped in to buy him a bike. This is just one example of how we are able to network with great agencies. It wasnt just me; it was a collective effort.
Q: What are some of the biggest needs for veterans in Stanislaus County?
A: I see an influx of veterans discharged, due to troop cuts or end of service, who are in need of a job. With our present economy and unemployment rate, it could account for the homeless I see who are from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. I submitted a written proposal about this to Congressman Jeff Denhams office and to Pete Conaty & Associates, both of whom have been great advocates for veterans. Veterans Affairs is doing a great job combating veteran homelessness, and our county is trying to do its part to help get these veterans off the streets.
More and more Vietnam veterans are coming down with illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure after 40-plus years. Ischemic heart disease, prostate cancer and type II diabetes are just a few conditions presumed as being related to Agent Orange. Affected veterans who can prove in-land Vietnam service or were brown-water sailors (who patrolled rivers) should speak with a physician and then a veteran service representative, because they may be entitled to disability compensation. If a veteran passes away as a result of service-connected disability, widows are entitled to a tax-free benefit of more than $1,200 a month and medical coverage.
Q: People probably assume that veterans are assisted through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. What specific services are provided through the county?
A: County veteran service officers are certified and trained by the VA to assist with claims for disability compensation, pensions, medical, burial, education and military record requests. We handle referrals for PTSD counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, Medicare, Medi-Cal and dependent and survivor services. There are county veteran service offices in Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin and Tuolumne counties.
Q: As a veteran from the younger generation, do you find it easy or not so easy to relate to older veterans?
A: I try to develop a rapport in the initial interview. I have enough military memorabilia in the office to spark a conversation before we do our assessment on how I can help them. Age does not become a factor because we both did our time in service. And even though our era is different, we can relate at some level. Most often, we trade war stories, which helps make the veteran feel more comfortable telling me what I can assist them with. I am in this position wholeheartedly, and I think a client can feel that when we talk. I love talking with the older generation because there is such a rich military history that we can share.
Q: What are your professional goals? Are you going to be working with veterans five to 10 years from now?
A: I am in my junior year at Brandman University, trying to complete my bachelors in sociology with an emphasis on social work. I would like to study at the University of Southern California for my masters in military social work. I want to be a clinical social worker for veterans. I am humbled and privileged to be able to help veterans and their families.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.