Members of the Snake River Correctional Institution color guard lead the way during the Veterans Day parade held last Saturday in Ontario. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

Roughly 2,440 veterans call Malheur County home.

At Veteran Advocates of Ore-Ida in Ontario, they can find a second home, according to Ron Verini, the organization’s president.

“We act as a conduit,” said Verini. “It’s a place to converse, have camaraderie, have coffee – just a place to relax.”

The site at 180 W. Idaho Ave. is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Verini encourages folks to just drop by. He said they see 20 to 30 people on a daily basis, sometimes more.

Verini said the goal is to provide a safe place for veterans and their families and to point them in the right direction when they need assistance.

A 28-foot van from Boise parks outside the organization twice a month. Two counselors aboard provide free counseling to veterans and families.

It’s packed from the time they arrive, said Verini, to the time they leave.

But Verini thinks more could always be done to help local veterans.

“A lot of the services are in major cities and metro areas,” he said. “Because of our location and the rural environment, our veterans don’t get the services they should.”

In September the county renewed a Highly Rural Transportation Grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The $45,000 year-long grant covers door-to-door transportation to medical appointments for Malheur County veterans, free of charge.

“We go to the Boise and Caldwell VA and we’ll do local doctor’s appointments,” said Brittany White, transportation manager for Malheur Express, the service provider.

It’s a popular service, said White, in the past funding has run out early. In October, the company provided 53 trips for 13 local veterans.

They’ve picked up clients as far away as Brogan and Jordan Valley.

“Our service is all throughout Malheur County,” said White. “If they need to get to an appointment covered by their VA or VA choice benefits, we’ll provide them services.”

Interested veterans must first reach out to Connie Tanaka at Malheur County Veterans Services for an eligibility screening.

The 2019 Veterans Day parade, put on by the American Legion Post 67, rolled through Ontario Saturday afternoon. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

Tanaka said other local services are provided at the Ontario nonprofit Community in Action through grants from the Supportive Services for Veteran Families.

The nonprofit assists homeless veterans, and also provides help with utility and heating bills. For those who qualify, there is also help for veterans who are behind on their property taxes or need help for home improvements.

At the veterans’ services building, 316 N.E. Goodfellow St., Ontario, Tanaka said veterans can find a hub to connect with other local resources.

“I am always available to help veterans,” said Tanaka. 

VETERANS DAY EVENTS

Following are some of the local events that will honor veterans in Malheur County. Veterans Day is observed Monday, Nov. 11, as a state and federal holiday.

BREAKFAST: The Nyssa Senior Center will host a breakfast to honor veterans this Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Admission is $5 and free for veterans.

FREE LUNCH: The Veteran Advocates of Ore-Ida will host a free lunch for veterans and their families at 180 W. Idaho Ave., Ontario, on Monday. There will be musical entertainment. The event starts at 11 a.m.

CEREMONY: The American Legion will host a service to honor veterans, also on Monday. The event will be at 11 a.m. at the veteran’s monument in front of Four Rivers Cultural Center, 676 S.W. 5th Ave., Ontario.

LUNCH: Mal’s Diner, 218 A Street W., Vale, will offer a meal free of charge for veterans starting at 11 a.m. on Monday.

DOCUMENTARY: Ontario Luxe Reel Theater, 477 S.E., 13th St. Ontario, will screen “Homemade,” an award-winning documentary about a veteran navigating civilian life. The screening is at 7 p.m. Monday. A panel discussion will follow.

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