by Bobby Anderson
It’s Thursday morning at 10 a.m. and the parking lot to Pastor James Gann’s Faith Pointe Baptist Church in Norman is completely full.
On this day there isn’t a service scheduled but people are pouring in from miles away to find help, hope and healing.
“You know that’s what the church is for,” Gann said after bellowing out the name of the next military veteran who will find help that day.
Gann isn’t preaching God’s word but he is making sure the flock is being tended to. That’s why he routinely opens up the the doors to his church to allow staff from the Dale K. Graham Veteran’s Corner to minister to America’s vets.
Graham’s 501(c)(3) organization helps vets navigate the seeming labyrinth that often separates them for the benefits they so rightfully deserve.
People from across the country have made the trek to one of the weekly workshops.
Graham started the ministry in the early 1990s. He began opening up the workshop at his country home.
By 2008, he was in the Goldsby community center. He separated from his original organization and now works out of Norman.
“I just want to help people,” Graham said. “My board of directors and I couldn’t agree. We parted ways and moved on.”
“This move to Norman has been the best move I’ve ever made. What we’re doing is we’re changing lives one at a time.”
Graham estimates his organization helps nearly 150 veterans a week in addition to 10 surviving spouses.
Benefits that veterans once thought impossible or didn’t even know about are often within reach.
Veterans who can get a 70-percent service-connected disability rating can enter a state VA center free of charge.
“One of the biggest drawbacks of getting old is they’re going to take everything you’ve got when it’s finished,” Graham said. “I like to see the kids or grandkids get something.”
An army of between 30 and 40 volunteers – all clad in red polo shirts – are present to help veterans at any given workshop.
The organization supports itself through donations and grants.
Currently, Graham says there is a desperate need for a donation of transportation to help veterans get to the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center and doctor’s visits.
A handicap van would also be a lifesaver as would a permanent location to open up daily for veterans.
The stories continue to flow in. On this morning a woman from Kansas City called and told Graham her brother was living with her after being homeless. After the Gulf War he was unable to function and struggles daily with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
She asked if there was anyone in her area that could do what Graham’s organization does.
Sadly, he couldn’t think of any.
“Most people don’t care,” Graham said. “The main thing is people don’t know how to do it.”
Graham is accredited as a claims agent for veterans.
He says he accepts no pay.
Volunteer Rhonda Reynolds recently retired as chief deputy of the Western District Federal. Her late husband was a Navy pilot.
“It’s money they’ve earned,” Reynolds said. “The difference is we’re not talking thousands of dollars we’re talking hundreds of dollars but to people living on $750 a month” it’s a huge difference.
Graham’s group has a network of doctors and healthcare providers that understand the needs of our veterans.
Shirley Clark Crowdin’s Navy husband passed away from Agent Orange exposure. She specializes in working with the spouses of veterans who have passed.
She said World War II surviving spouses, kids or grandkids whose loved one died of cancer are eligible for up to $75,000 in radiation benefits.
“They should have got it 50 years ago,” Crowdin said. “I’m doing claims for surviving spouses (whose husbands served) in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Nobody told them.
“One of the toughest things is we have so many suicides, but we’re able to service connect them once they pass away.”
Vietnam Veterans are of particular concern.
“Vietnam Veterans – there shouldn’t be one alive that doesn’t get 100 percent (disability),” said Crowdin, who notes the average age at death of a Vietnam Veteran is 63 years old, due to chemical exposure.
“We have World War II surviving spouses that live on about $300 per month and we can get then another $400,” Crowdin said, fighting back tears. “During the holidays we worked with three that had committed suicide.”
Graham nods his head.
“Every time you deal with one of them you feel the pain,” Graham said.
If you or a loved one need help with benefits you can contact Graham at 405-609-9895 or email him at [email protected] Tuesday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon are open for veterans. Walkins begin at 6:30 a.m. until noon on Thursdays.
“So far, we’ve never sent anybody home,” Graham said.