ATC outreach event spotlights veterans’ benefits

April 5, 2019

GRANITEVILLE - Getting the message out to veterans about benefits to which they might be eligible was the purpose of a community outreach program Wednesday at Aiken Technical College.

ATC’s Student Veterans Association sponsored the event, the first the association has sponsored.

Timothy Prendergast, a veterans outreach program specialist at the Augusta Vet Center, which is part of the Veterans Health Administration, said community outreach events give veterans, active service members and their families direct access to information.

“It’s important to be in the community as a touch point as opposed to being in a building,” said Prendergast, who was in the U.S. Army 26 years. “People might be intimidated to go to a building, but if you’re in the community and mixing, then you have a greater opportunity to reach out to the person who might not go to the facility.”

Prendergast estimated between 14,000 and 15,000 veterans live in Aiken County and about 66,000 veterans live in the 13-county CSRA. Some of them might be unaware of the services and benefits available to them.

“There’s not a day that goes by that we’re not running into somebody who may not know what they’re fully entitled to, anything from a state benefit to a federal benefit,” he said. “Today’s event is an opportunity to get out in the community and be a touch point where veterans or active duty service members or family members can come and get information and be empowered by resources that might be life changing for them.”

“If not for them, then it might be for somebody else in their sphere of influence. We find that sometimes word flows from veteran to veteran.”

Lisa Washington, the president of the Student Veterans Association, said ATC is “very veteran friendly.”

“For people just getting out of the military, they’re able to help them guide them through the process to get their benefits to pay for college,” she said. “They’re also able to help the dependents of veterans who don’t know that they’re entitled to benefits. We had several veterans today who have been out of service for a long time who did not know that they are still entitled to some benefits.”

Washington, who was a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy, is working on a dual major with USC Aiken to complete her bachelor’s degree. Her goal is to pursue a master’s degree and become a physician’s assistant.

“I want to go back to work at Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon to serve my veterans as a civilian this time,” she said.