Vets have patchwork of aid in shutdown

Resources that don't rely on shuttered agencies soldier on

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

AREA EXCHANGES

• Portland Base Exchange, 6801 Cornfoot Road, Building 125, Portland Air Base; 503-249-0997

• Camp Withycombe Express, 15300 Minuteman Way, Building 6400, Clackamas, Ore.; 503-655-1717

• Information: Clark County Veterans Assistance Center, 1305 Columbia St.; 360-693-7030

Web: herrerabeutler.house.gov

The local veterans' assistance office is open.

Vancouver's post exchange is shuttered. And in an interesting twist, the birthplace of the worldwide PX system might be the only one closed by the federal shutdown.

It's been a confusing week for many local veterans and military retirees.

Some are unsure about the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center in downtown Vancouver. It's a local nonprofit and is not part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, so the office "is open for business," said outreach director Keith Scott.

The assistance center, 1305 Columbia St., links veterans with a range of support programs and services. Some are provided by the VA, while others are offered by local agencies.

"Apparently, many people think we are closed due to the government shutdown. We have had clients calling to see if we are open," Scott said.

However, the shutdown does mean that some federal programs for veterans are unavailable, Scott said.

(Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, posted a summary on her website of the VA services that still are operating and the ones that have been shut down.)

In some cases, even information isn't available. Scott said he was trying to answer a veteran's question about education benefits, and hit a roadblock.

"You call the VA, and there's only a message saying they're shut down. The only reason I could answer his question is that I found it in a book," Scott said.

"If they need services like clothing or food boxes, we can help with that. We do that in-house," Scott said. "If they need information about help from other agencies, we can do that."

In the last two years, the center has assisted over 4,000 veterans. In the last few days, Scott added, the center's volunteers have been seeing some veterans who are furloughed federal employees.

Priscilla Myers was just hoping to do a little shopping when she met a roadblock — in her case, a real one. Myers has been driving to the local PX outlet in Vancouver Barracks, just off Fort Vancouver Way, for more than 25 years. This week, the access route along Hatheway Road was blocked by a metal barrier.

That's because the Vancouver shoppette, as the retail outlet is called, is now inside a national park. Fort Vancouver National Historic Site took over the East Barracks and South Barracks when the U.S. Army left. And as a sign on the locked door of the shoppette explains: "Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed."

"That's too bad," Myers said.

It might be the only outlet in the entire Army & Air Force Exchange Service, as the worldwide PX system is now called, to be closed by the shutdown, said Patrick McGhee.

McGhee, the exchange general manager at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, oversees several exchanges in Washington and Oregon, including the Vancouver Barracks outlet.

"Since it is located in a National Park Service site, even though they provide no funding, we had to close it," McGhee said. "We talked to the Park Service, they were trying to find a way to make it happen, and they're caught up in the red tape."

Signs taped inside the door of the closed shoppette remind people of other shopping options in Oregon. The closest is at the Oregon Air National Guard base in Portland; another is at Camp Withycombe, in Clackamas.

They have been following customer traffic during the week, McGhee said, and several indicated they were shopping at the Air National Guard outlet because the Vancouver site was closed.