VetLinx is like a clearing house for veterans services and organizations. It’s a community-supported organization in which resources that serve veterans are centralized and people are available to help navigate the maze and fill in the gaps of service.
VetLinx includes services such as veterans benefits, substance abuse, women’s issues, legal help and suicide prevention, but it’s much more.
“We’re not out to compete with anyone,” said Laurel Bowman, VetLinx founder and administrator. “We’re out to come together, increase awareness of veteran-related issues and streamline connectivity within the community.”
There are more than 90 organizations and businesses that have joined the VetLinx community.
A hospice nurse and administrator for 20 years, Bowman took what she learned about working as a team and combined it with her heart for military veterans, and the result was VetLinx. Her passion for veterans started during the years she spent with her grandfather, who retired from the Army after serving for 25 years. He taught her about the role of the military, its importance and even military songs.
“Every weekend we would go to Fort Knox,” she said. “He missed it. He missed the camaraderie.”
Bowman’s late father-in-law, Jim Bowman, was a Vietnam veteran with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Blackhorse Troopers. He was a tunnel rat and tank commander.
Bowman recalls one day when the two were working together on a garden.
As the two dug holes for the plants, “He began to open up,” she said. “He started with ‘We were spit on.’ By instinct, I knew, but I didn’t know when he arrived in California from Vietnam he had to remove his uniform because people spit at him.”
He talked for two hours, releasing years of pent-up anger, frustration and pain. She just listened.
“That was the best lesson. When a veteran starts talking, sit still and let them process just by telling their story,” she said. “I saw the struggle my father-in-law had getting benefits. He died of Agent Orange-related illnesses and never got to meet his granddaughter.”
Bowman recalled she was running an errand at Walmart when she received the call that Jim had died. The president of the local Vietnam Veterans of America was outside collecting money and asking for volunteers to help with an upcoming fundraiser.
“I handed him $40,” she said.
Later, Bowman channeled her grief by getting involved with helping other veterans with the implementation of an outreach program in eight hospice offices under her administrative purview.
In 2010, she developed VetLinx, an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the majority of its board members and directors combat veterans.
VetLinx’s mission is “to connect veterans to community resources and collaborate with community leaders to help fill the gaps in service to veterans through projects and events.” Events like the Star Spangled Salute to Vietnam Veterans and the annual VetLinx Festival.
Remembering the difficulty her father-in-law had negotiating his benefits with the Veterans Administration, Bowman became an accredited Veterans Service Officer volunteer.
A couple of years ago, after speaking with her husband, Bowman quit her six-figure job in hospice care to put all her energy into her volunteer work serving veterans. She also began working on her nurse practitioner degree.
“I want to create a team of mentors and professionals to get veterans out of crisis,” Bowman said. “As a nurse practitioner, I can do exams and file benefit claims.”
One of Bowman’s top concerns is the suicide rate among veterans.
“Suicide in the military has skyrocketed,” she said.
Bowman says that during World War II, nine percent of the population served in the military. Today only one percent serves, yet the suicide rate is higher today.
“In 2008, we saw a spike in the suicide rate that exceeded the general population,” she said. “Higher survival rates from injuries doesn’t translate to a better life.
“The Vietnam veterans are a strong force. They took all they went through and created awareness. They changed benefits and how they are delivered and they developed support systems. Their motto became ‘May one generation never abandon another.’”
For more information about VetLinx, go to www.vetlinx.org or call 1-844-VETLINX (838-5469).