Veterans Benefits and Support Services Can Change Your Life

Bald eagle with American flag, focus on head (clipping path)

Every November 11th we celebrate Veterans Day in the United States. This day is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. Veterans are thanked for their services to the United States on Veterans Day.

I'm sure we all know someone who has served in the military. These brave individuals are our military heroes and heroines.

Through my work at Aging and Disability Services (ADS—the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County), I met Seattle Housing Assistance Group (SHAG) resident services manager Annie Jacobsen and community life coordinator LeighBeth Merrick. Through Annie I was introduced to M. Jonathan Johnson, SHAG's veterans outreach coordinator. Jonathan is a veteran who has worked with veterans at VA hospitals around the country since 1988. He has been with SHAG for almost four years, and started as a volunteer over two years before his hire as a part-time veterans outreach coordinator.

5/6/14. Photo by Daniel Berman/

Jonathan Johnson is a passionate and enthusiastic advocate for veterans.

Jonathan understands the importance of connecting people to the needed and deserved services that can help them have healthy and rewarding lives. He is passionate and enthusiastic.

SHAG has over 5,000 residents. Over 2,000 are veterans, spouses, or widows of veterans. It is Jonathan's job to pass on information and answer all questions that pertain to benefits and claims that the veterans have earned.

"'Earned' is a word that a number our older vets have trouble with," says Jonathan. "Our vets do not realize that these benefits are already accounted for, and no one is deprived by vets accessing benefits. Our main issue is lack of information—what is available and where do we go to get started on making a claim? That is where outreach comes to the fore."

Jonathan presents information at all 29 SHAG properties so that widows, spouses and vets can get started on a claim. "We are talking about a process—a task that takes a while to come to fruition. There are forms to fill out, and things that you have to go through but, in the end, it is worthwhile. The end result is a benefit that can change your life!"

Here's What Veterans Say About PEARLS

"Getting out is freeing. I realized that there are things I can do, despite being disabled. I have a future and this isn't the end of the world."

"Having someone to talk to has helped me become more focused."

"I'm not alone, someone does care."

"I learned that I have choices. I'm able to make decisions on my own, after weighing the pros and cons. It helps."

"I'm smarter than I thought."

"PEARLS was an anchor that kept me above water, kept me from drowning."

"I made behavior changes. I learned not to procrastinate—to stay focused and to get things done."

Jonathan invited ADS to participate in the 5th Annual Rainier Community Festival sponsored by SHAG on August 23, 2014. It was an opportunity to provide information about PEARLS—the Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding Lives—an evidenced-based program that helps people learn problem-solving skills, become more active, and enjoy a rewarding life. PEARLS received funding from the King County Veterans and Human Services Levy.

PEARLS is offered at no cost to veterans and their spouses who are age 55 and older. I shared a table with Jonathan as well as Rafael A. Lozano, a Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs program manager. Jonathan called out to a lot of folks to come over to our table and receive free bags and information about the PEARLS program. He knows a lot of the residents personally and warmly introduced us to many of the people attending the festival.

It was an amazing day and I enjoyed meeting the folks who attended. I want to thank Jonathan and SHAG for their wonderful hospitality and warm community welcome.

On November 11, offer your thanks and appreciation to all veterans as well as to their families.

Contributor Mary Pat O'Leary, RN is the lead Aging and Disability Services planner for PEARLS—Program to Encourage Active, Rewarding Lives—who works closely with PEARLS counselors Daniel Widner (206-615-0533) and Carl Kaiser (206-386-0039).

Additional Veterans Resources