Rianda House

The Rianda House senior activity center in downtown St. Helena.

Nestled in the western foothills of Yountville is the Veterans Home of California. Founded in 1884, the facility is the largest of its kind in the United States and has a population of 1,200 older and/or disabled veterans that represent six wars dating from World War II to today’s young service men and women returning from modern wars and service across the globe.

While providing a broad range of housing and health and wellness services, the home also serves as a beacon in Napa County that represents the triumph and tragedy of war and all that we recognize as a nation on Veteran’s Day. Originating as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance and Veterans Day became a national holiday in 1938.

As a special tribute to honor local veterans, Rianda House will hold its annual Veteran’s Remembrance Day at 3 p.m., Friday, Nov. 8. The community is invited to join us at 1475 Main St., St. Helena, to be a part of this special celebration that honors and recognizes local veterans. This event is created in partnership with the American Legion. A reception with light refreshments will follow.

Throughout the year, our veteran community and their families can rely on the dedicated team at Napa County Veterans Service Office. Rianda House is pleased to have this opportunity to acquaint you with their comprehensive services:

Serving as the primary advocate for veterans and their dependents, The Napa County Veterans Service Office (VSO) provides information and case management for benefit claims. There are 11,000 veterans living in Napa County, according to the 2010 Federal Census. About 21 percent of those vets are receiving some benefit from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Benefits include monetary (compensation for service-connected disabilities or a wartime pension for low-income veterans), health care, education and burial. VSO also issue a Napa County Veterans ID Card, making it easier for veterans to get discounts at many local businesses.

In FY 2018/2019 the VSO helped 802 veterans, or surviving spouses of veterans, apply for a benefit with the VA. They were directly responsible for bringing in $4,459,184 in annualized benefits.

VSO can often help a veteran or surviving spouse facing high medical expenses. The wartime pension program can provide a veteran with up to $2,230 per month, and the VA can provide free health care and medications. One little-known program allows children of veterans with even minor disabilities to attend any California community college, state college or state university tuition free! In FY 18/19 VSO granted waivers to 68 students, a benefit valued at $411,408.

The VSO’s dedicated case management team guides clients through the task of completing a benefit claim. Then they file the claim, track it and meet with the individual (and family) after the VA makes a decision to review. Even with their comprehensive, skillful, no-cost and friendly local service, the VSO shared these four reasons many vets typically don’t receive their benefits:

1. They don’t know about them. The VA doesn’t advertise, so the VSO often hears “I didn’t know that benefit was available!”

2. They don’t think they qualify. Many assume they aren’t eligible, or aren’t a veteran, because they didn’t serve in combat or retire from the military.

3. They think it is too much of a hassle to apply. OK, it does take a little work, but that’s why the VSO exists – to help veterans through the process.

4. They say, “there are others worse off than me.” Many believe if they get a benefit it will be withheld from someone else. This is untrue – the VA is very well-funded!

A major issue local veterans face is a complete lack of any VA Health Care facilities in Napa County. Currently, veterans must drive to Santa Rosa, Vallejo or Martinez for VA health care, and there is no direct public transportation. The VSO office tells us there is some good news on the horizon with plans being finalized, hopefully by the end of 2019, to bring in a VA Mental Health professional to be co-located at their office in the Health and Human Services, South Campus at 650 Imperial Way, Napa.

As you can tell, the Napa County Veterans Service office is ready to answer your questions and help veterans and their dependents find benefits available to them. You can attend with an one-hour benefits orientations (every Tuesday at 1:30) and/or their Vet Connect program that links vets to benefits (second Thursday of each month, 9 a.m. to noon). Or simply start by calling the VSO office to learn more: 707-253-4558, vets@napavets.com view their website: www.napavets.com.

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Julie Spencer is the executive director of The Rianda House Senior Activity Center, which is located at 1475 Main Street in St. Helena. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. Call 707-963-8555 ext. 101 for more information. To view the monthly activity calendar, visit www.riandahouse.org.