The Vineyard veteran community is working together to offer outreach and support to those who want to enroll in Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare, get their COVID vaccines, or need housing or other financial assistance.
Bruce Montrose, Martha’s Vineyard veteran’s services officer, said during Wednesday’s Dukes County Commission meeting that the pandemic has restricted community outreach and education efforts, due to the lack of in-person events and meetings that veterans would normally be able to attend.
“About 12 of the 17 months I have sat in this chair have been under COVID. It has been very restrictive,” Montrose said. “Word used to get out in the veterans community through VFW meetings, Legion meetings, and other functions which really haven’t occurred since last March.”
According to Montrose, the various veterans support groups on-Island are collaborating to make sure that every veteran who is enrolled in VA healthcare has access to the COVID vaccine.
Currently, every veteran who is enrolled has been contacted directly with available dates to get their shots, which are provided by the VA medical clinic in Hyannis.
Montrose said transporting veterans to the clinic has been “problematic,” although the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office is giving veterans rides to the clinic and back each Wednesday.
The effort is a collaboration between the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Veteran Outreach Program and the sheriff’s office.
“They take three veterans each trip, properly spaced — a ride up and a ride back at no cost to the veterans,” Montrose said.
He added that fellow veterans have also stepped up, and are bringing folks to the clinic for them to be vaccinated.
If a veteran is not enrolled in VA healthcare, they are not currently eligible to receive the vaccine at the Hyannis clinic, although vets can still get their shot at the hospital if they meet the qualifications related to age, occupation, or comorbidities.
In 2018, Montrose said, census data showed there were about 980 veterans on the Island. To his knowledge, only a small percentage of those vets are enrolled in VA healthcare. “There are certain qualifiers you have to meet to be enrolled,” Montrose said.
Recently, he said, a phone number has been circulated that any veteran can call to enroll.
Every year, Montrose and other veteran support entities reach out to veterans who might qualify under the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services Safety Net Program, which provides financial assistance with rent, medical costs, homelessness prevention, and daily living expenses. He added that the Veterans Outreach Council for the Cape and Islands has provided veterans who have lost their jobs, can’t make their rents, or may be homeless with financial assistance.
“We have found rentals for these people, in some cases put them up in hotels, and it’s all paid for by the outreach center,” Montrose said. “ A multimillion-dollar grant has been set up to deal with this specifically — we have taken care of quite a few veterans in this regard.”
Before COVID, it was required that any veteran looking to receive financial assistance from the state Safety Net program meet face-to-face with the veterans agent, then a check is cut each month. “That all went away with COVID,” Montrose said.
Even with the lack (or total absence) of in-person communication with some veterans, Montrose said, “no veteran has missed a check on my watch; it hasn’t happened,” and explained that he has been collaborating with the towns to get checks sent out.
The most difficult challenge to overcome for Montrose has been outreach to veterans who might not have the technology or savviness to access public announcements regarding potential support services.
“The best way we have found, so far, to make that happen is through the newspapers. There are a lot of veterans that have a flip phone, they don’t have a computer to get online and sign up,” he said.
Eventually, Montrose and other veterans service programs on-Island will collaborate to form a master list of veterans on the Island who either are or aren’t receiving aid.
The VFW and the Legion are slated to open in April, according to Montrose, and the next step will be to figure out how to safely hold informational meetings and other forums.
Trustees address Norton Point erosion
The Trustees of Reservations have put together a final plan for the Norton Point rehabilitation project, which involves dune restoration, additional sand fencing, and beach grass planting.
According to Sam Hart, Islands director for the Trustees, the goal of the project is to make Norton Point more resilient to erosion brought on by sea level rise, increased inundation, and the intensity and frequency of major storm events.
“We are really focusing on the entrance to Norton Point, and building back the dune that was lost during Superstorm Sandy,” Hart said. ”We will be putting back about 800 feet of dune.”
The dune restoration will use approximately 14,000 cubic yards of sand, he said.
Hart said that over the past 120 years, 167 acres of land have been lost at Norton Point.
“What is remarkable is that during [the] time period from 2016 to 2018, we lost 21 acres, in just two years,” he said. “Then you go to the period from 2009 to 2016 — a seven-year period — and we only lost two acres. Even more astounding is that you have 74 acres lost between 1897 and 1994, and almost an equal amount lost between 1994 and 2009.”
In concert with all other efforts related to beach nourishment, The Trustees are also looking at relocating over-sand vehicle trails behind the new dune.
Currently, the over-sand vehicle trail runs laterally to the Norton Point entrance, and winds back to the lifeguard shack, but The Trustees are planning on moving that trail back. They are also submitting an application to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) for a matching grant to move the left fork bathhouses northward, and fill that area in with dune as well.
The grant would be matched 75 percent by CZM, and The Trustees would foot the rest of the bill. “We are fundraising to help us with that,” Hart said.
Commissioners agreed to write a letter of support to CZM for the project, and to provide signatures necessary for The Trustees to receive permits from the conservation commission.
“If we are successful, we will know by June whether or not we won the grant. That would put us in position to be shovel-ready by the fall,” Hart said.