WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — The Black Hawk Veterans Affairs Office is making more of an effort to reach out to minorities in the community.

Several members of the veteran community have been working with Kevin Dill, executive director of the Black Hawk County Veteran Affairs Commission, to provide information to veterans about how to sign up for benefits.

"There's a lot of people walking around that probably don't know how to get their benefits and everything," said Maurice Bailey, a 20-year veteran of the Navy who has been working with Dill. "It just takes somebody to come ask."

The Black Hawk VA hosts a number of events to bring in veterans, including a weekly cookout.

On June 5 the Black Hawk VA will host a Diversity Outreach Cookout for Veterans at Sullivan Park in Waterloo from 5 to 8 p.m.

The cookout is located at Sullivan Park to reach the demographic in that area, said Kris Jones, a Marine combat veteran.

Dill works with Bailey and Jones to try to reach out to the minorities in Waterloo and guide them to the VA office.

"I sense in my spirit that there's a number of African-American veterans and Latino veterans who are not utilizing what's down here," Dill told The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier . "I'm trying to figure a way to get the word out."

Waterloo and federal agencies in general don't have the best history with dealing with minority communities.

"That's why a lot of (minorities) feel like they don't necessarily deserve certain benefits," Jones said. "The process is difficult for people that are not black, to apply and track benefits, for them it's going to be that much more difficult."

When veterans leave the service, regardless of race, they struggle to adapt to civilian life.

"Here in this VA office, it doesn't matter to me the color of your skin," Dill said. "What matters to me is, are you hurting, are you struggling, spiritually, financially, emotionally."

Jones tries to get veterans to, at least, meet Dill.

"Ask the question, you don't know what you might be entitled to or earned," Jones said.

A lot of minorities won't ask go in and ask, Jones said.

"A lot of times they can't handle rejection, time and time again," Jones said. "Especially the mentality of being proud and being black in your community, you served your country you think you should be able to get that stuff so easily, but you can't, that's a slap in the face."

Seeing others with their benefits adds to the difficulty.

"That's why I didn't apply for it, plus no one reached to explain it to me like Kevin does," Jones said. "It's the mind set of a veteran, a proud black veteran."

If veterans don't come to claim their benefits then they could disappear, Dill said.

"If you don't come down, you're missing out on that process to help support your brother or sister behind you," Dill said.

Jones and Bailey will take veterans to appointments, on their own time if needed.

"They probably don't know what they're entitled to and there's a lot of benefits out here they're entitled to," Bailey said.

Bailey put in a claim when he was discharged for problem he had with his eye and didn't follow up on it.

"I didn't really know, and I just went years without doing it," Bailey said. "I ended up having a heart attack issue in 2016 and it made me wake up and say 'I kind of need some help here.'"

From there Bailey re-filed his paperwork and was able to get better from there.

"Sometimes it takes a life-threatening issue to go up and basically force you in there," Bailey said.

Bailey and Jones will sit down with veterans who don't understand what VA benefits they're entitled to and guide them.

"We're trying to get more minorities out because there are a lot of nationalities here in Waterloo," Bailey said.

The goal is to make the veteran community in Waterloo as diverse as the community that surrounds it.

"I don't know if pride sets in or they just don't want to come out," Bailey said. "We're just trying to get the folks out here and try to understand we're veterans, we try to take care of each other."

Sometimes Dill will have a widow of a veteran who hasn't visited the VA come in and he realizes they were entitled to benefits.

"She missed out on something she could've had, because we're doing a poor job of communicating to our veterans what their benefits are," Dill said. "We've been trying to change that."

Dill's goal is to get the word to every veteran in the community that he has an office where they can find out about their benefits.

"There's help," Jones said.


Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com