UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Office of Veteran Affairs, established at the beginning of this year by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, is taking steps to assist the 62,000 veterans in Prince George’s County.
“We proudly serve the men and women who honorably and proudly served for us and the freedoms we enjoy,” said Office of Veteran Affairs Officer Dr. James Dula.
The Office of Veteran Affairs was created in February to assist veterans according to need. Before being elected at the end of 2018, the county executive took feedback from residents about the services that were currently available to the veterans in the county and found that more could be done.
Some of the feedback included the need for improvements to the delivery of services, support for family members of soldiers who are on duty, benefits and employment after they end their service in the military.
Led by Dula, a retired member of the U.S. Airforce with a background in health and human services, the organization has served about 1,000 people in the first quarter of this year alone signifying the immense need for the service in the county.
“It’s a great day to be a veteran in Prince George’s County,” Dula said. “I always say that when I go out to speak because we are here to service the needs of our veterans. Angela Alsobrooks saw that need and created the office for that purpose.”
Recently, the Office of Veteran Affairs has partnered with the Prince George’s County Human Relations Commission to assist the county’s veterans further.
As the county’s civil and human rights education and enforcement agency, the Human Relations Commission addresses reports of discrimination and provides training to employees, employers and residents about it, offers community-building conversations and outreach events and strives to maintain an inclusive community.
By partnering with the Office of Veteran Affairs, the two organizations will work together to assist current and returning veterans in the workplace concerning a variety of issues from discrimination in the workplace, the effects of PTSD, their rights and responsibilities at work and in the community and successfully resolving conflict.
In addition to meeting the needs of county veterans with various services, the two agencies will also work together to host events for veterans soon.
“Our goal is to jointly foster a proactive agenda through outreach and education,” said Renée Battle-Brooks, executive director of the Human Relations Commission.
In addition to the Human Rights Commission, the Office of Veteran Affairs partners with a variety of local, state and national veterans affairs organizations from nonprofits to businesses to serve the needs of their veterans.
One of those is the National Association of Black Veterans, which provides advocacy for all veterans who are seeking claims against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It helps with community development and provides strategic advocacy on the part of its membership with Congress, federal and state administrations and local governments.
As part of its work with the Office of Veteran Affairs, the National Association of Black Veterans helps veterans with VA claims.
The office also partners with local county departments such as the Department of Social Services and the Department of Family Services who offer placement for the homeless.
Apart from claims assistance and homelessness, the Office of Veteran Affairs helps with health care, rights, rental assistance and disabled veteran claims. These are the main issues that the veterans around the county face, Dula said, as well as homelessness.
“We’ve had a number of people coming in telling me that they are homeless and we have been able to place them through organizations that are nonprofits that provide housing to veterans through our social services department,” Dula said.
The goal of the office as they move forward is to provide excellent services to every veteran that comes to them, grow and change as the needs of the county’s veterans change and ensure that the people that they assist are pleased with their service. Additionally, they aim always to be easily accessible to the veterans and their families, a mission that Dula coined as Operation Forward March.
As the Office of Veteran Affairs only just opened in February and has seen so much success in just a short amount of time, Dula hopes that they continue their momentum holding true to what they are doing now far into the future.
“I see the office in the future continuing what we are already doing to address the local needs of our veterans, assisting them with enhancing their quality of life. We will continue to work with the VA, with the state veteran affairs, to address issues as they come up and advocate for our veterans.”