Nena Truch's husband, John, spent a third of his life in the Navy, serving in both World War II and the Korean War as a lieutenant commander before the couple married and resettled in Daly City. These days, at 91, he's a wizened old man with Parkinson's disease who requires constant medical attention. He has bladder cancer and uses a walker; he's currently rehabilitating from two infections, and will head to an assisted-living facility thereafter.
With more such veterans entering the autumn of old age right as others return from Iraq and Afghanistan, San Mateo County is struggling not only to provide efficient services for all of them, but to let them know that such services are available.
Some 27,000 veterans are believed to reside in the county, and according to a 2011 census, 257 of them are homeless. But without a single entity to line up resources and coordinate between different county bureaucracies, these veterans often have trouble navigating the system.
For instance, many veterans exhaust their pensions or IRA accounts because they don't know the county can help them, observed Cathleen Zavala, a veterans services representative who helps file claims from the office in Belmont.
"They only know by word of mouth," Zavala said. "It would be nice to have some type of coalition to all meet once a month, determine what areas need assistance, and determine who needs hospital beds, or bed pans, or diapers."
Toward that end, County Manager John Maltbie recently convinced county supervisors to recommend setting aside $100,000 a year in Measure A sales tax revenue for a planning group designed to integrate veterans services and make them more accessible. Comprising members of the county's behavioral health department and various other agencies, the planning group would eat up just a small sliver of the projected $60 million that Measure A will add annually to county coffers.
San Mateo County doesn't actually suffer from a dearth of resources for veterans, Maltbie was careful to note. Its Human Services Agency currently has two staff members who help veterans apply for federal benefits; last year they helped file 934 claims, according to executive analyst Edwin Chan. The real challenge is funneling all those services into one seamless system, Maltbie wrote in a memo to the board.
But demand for services may balloon in the coming years, with veterans like Truch living longer and requiring end-of-life care.
Their elderly spouses and family members are also eligible for benefits, which potentially doubles the needy population. Take Richard Lawless, a retired Daly City plumber, who snagged a housing stipend for his 92-year-old mother because his father fought in World War II. Now he's telling every eligible person he knows to get on board.
"My uncle is 86, and he was in the Air Force," Lawless said. "My brother died in Vietnam, and his wife needs help. I went to five people over the weekend who served in the war, and they don't know about this program. They're all elderly."