MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Some veterans returning to civilian life sometimes have a difficult time getting all the benefits due to them. That's where the Veteran Social Command comes in: A weekly meeting at Middletown's Mercy Point Church every Thursday afternoon offers some a chance to learn how to get what's coming to them.
"I started with this group in 2012," said Vietnam War Army veteran Dennis Kearns.
He said the group back then was much smaller than the current number of 600 veterans.
"I went to those first meetings at the two-car garage, there was 12 of us there," said Kearns.
The group has former service members from World War II to current day veterans of Iraq who have recently redeployed, according to Kearns. The gathering is about a lot more than food and friendship.
"It's unbelievable the feeling you get when you know you've done something that good," said Vietnam War Army veteran Donald McClung.
He's talking about helping a fellow veteran understand the benefits they qualify for tied to their military service -- something he said he had explained to him when he got out in 2005.
The veteran who helped McClung explained that his service in the war had direct links to health and monetary benefits. With that veterans' help he filed the proper paperwork and eventually received 100% disability from the VA.
After that, McClung started using his knowledge to help others.
"I didn't know I was broken. I came home that way and didn't know it," Richards said recalling the small garage gatherings where he first started helping other veterans. "My ears rang, they've been ringing since Vietnam."
Not aware of his benefits, McClung soon walked Richards down the same path of knowledge or government forms and soon he had 100% disability tied to his service too.
"When he did that for me I started to pass the word along to the people I knew were veterans," said Richards.
McClung said passing on the torch and helping a fellow veteran meant the world to him.
"That just thrilled me and I was addicted to helping people then," he said. "It made my heart happy I guess you could say."
That is really what Thursday's weekly gathering is all about -- veterans guiding other veterans through the claim process with the VA.
"Most veterans don't understand all the actual forms you need to fill out there are hundreds of forms to fill out for different things," said Dennis Kearns.
But through years of doing it and sharing each other's knowledge of their own cases the team of veteran volunteers navigate the process and dedicate themselves to the cause.
"Other veterans out there that specialize in certain things we don't finish here at this table we go home get on the computer call each other and research things," said volunteer and Vietnam veteran Harry Cable.
Kearns said veterans trying to navigate current claims or those who have never filed a claim should come to a meeting. The volunteer research team says even denial letters have been overturned and they've managed to help some veterans get the benefits they're owed.
McClung said it's been his mission since the days in the garage.