San Juan County Veterans’ Assistance Fund disperses more than $53K during pandemic to county veterans in need

  • Wed May 26th, 2021 1:30am
  • News

Submitted by the San Juan County Veterans’ Advisory Board.

Since January 2020, the San Juan County Veterans’ Assistance Fund has dispersed $53,678 to San Juan County veterans in need. In light of the societal and economic impact of the pandemic, the San Juan County Veterans Advisory Board had been anticipating that there would be a greater need in 2020. The VAB wants to makes sure San Juan County veterans know that the fund is there to assist them if they are facing financial difficulties.

“When the impacts of 2020 were becoming apparent, we were ready to do what we could to make sure San Juan County veterans were going to have the support they needed. When times are difficult for everyone, veterans may be especially vulnerable. With the Veterans’ Assistance Fund, San Juan County has this great resource for assisting with those vulnerabilities,” said Lindsey Callahan, a VAB member.

Since the Board’s founding in 2007, the fund has dispersed more than $636,000, dispersing an average of $42,000 each year. The amount dispersed in 2020 was within a typical range, and the Veterans’ Advisory Board members hope that is a sign that San Juan County veterans were not hit harder in 2020 than in other years, and were also supported by other local, State, and Federal programs aimed at helping people and businesses struggling economically during the pandemic.

It is estimated that military veterans make up 10% of the San Juan County population. Most veterans are not indigent and may never face financial difficulty, especially in a largely well-off community of the islands. But for many veterans who are struggling, asking for help can be difficult. “So much of the military experience is focused on taking on adversity and stressful situations with the expectation that military members should be able to handle things on their own. Asking for help can be hard. But the Veterans’ Advisory Board is veterans in the community serving veterans in the community. We get it. We want to make sure that if a veteran is struggling, they know these funds are here,” said Callahan.

There is no cap to how much a veteran can request, or how often. Requestors must have served in the military and lived in the County for at least six months. More information on the fund can be found at If islanders know of veterans in need, send them to the family resource centers, the County Council office on Spring Street in Friday Harbor, or the county website to complete an application.

Meet the Veterans Advisory Board

Pat Ayers

Pat has served on the VAB for over 10 years. Pat is also actively involved in the local veteran community as the American Legion Voyle B. Martin Post #93 (Orcas Island) Commander.

I was in the Navy for 12 years, from November 1980 to June 1992. I was a hospital corpsman, specializing in cardiovascular medicine. It has been important to me to be involved in the veterans’ community because I feel connected to my fellow veterans. Being in the military, there was a real camaraderie. The military family is real. I feel connected to Vietnam veterans especially. They did not receive what they should have and as a result, there is a lot of them out there with issues that they carry with them. This is also true with veterans coming out of our continuing conflicts. As members of the VAB, we are able to support veterans who need emergent financial assistance.

Michael Baker

Michael has served on the VAB since 2008, including two years as chair.

I volunteered for Army service in 1965 to fill a perceived gap in my life progress. I turned down an offer of Officer training, expressing at the time a desire to serve as and with the common man, not seeking to rise above him. I landed in Vietnam in the fall of 1966, killed my first human being in early 1967, and left the war in November of 1967. I was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky and spent time at their medical center clearing up a fungus that left Viet Nam with me and met a WAC on the medical staff with whom I still share my life these 53 years later. In 2008, Alan Lichter, then county commissioner, asked me to serve on a board he had devised to more fairly distribute Veteran’s Assistance funds. Vietnam war veterans have not been treated well in general. It’s understandable; we lost the first-ever American war. I agreed to join the VAB to serve those of my veteran brothers and sisters who’ve been ill-served by life because they, we, deserve so much more than we are given by our society.

Lindsey Callahan

Lindsey has served on the VAB since 2019.

I served on active duty for seven years, during the tail end of the Iraq War and during the Afghanistan era. I left active duty in 2017. When most people think of veterans, they think of WWII or Vietnam-era veterans, and that is a large portion of the veteran population in San Juan County; however, there are more and more veterans of the Iraq War and Afghanistan War in the county now as well. There are also more and more women veterans. I’m mindful that women have faced unique issues both while serving and as veterans. Some of the challenges that veterans of the Iraq War and Afghanistan War eras have faced are also different from those of prior wars — but we all made commitments and sacrifices. Bill Cumming invited me to a VAB meeting back in 2019, and I had the opportunity to join the board soon after. It is an honor to serve on the VAB, and it is also a fun group of individuals to see at meetings.

Bill Cumming

Bill Cumming has served on the VAB for over eight years.

I was drafted in 1966 and I served in Vietnam as a combat infantryman with the 1st Infantry Division in 1967. I was discharged in 1968 as a Staff Sergeant (E-5). I served 24 years as the Sheriff of San Juan County. I serve on the VAB because our fellow veterans need and deserve our support when their circumstances are such that their quality of life has deteriorated, or is in danger of deteriorating to unacceptable levels.

Kevin Holmes

I joined the U.S. Marine Corps right after my 18th Birthday. I served over four years with some amazing peers and great mentors who told me that the military could be a job for a lifetime if I enjoyed it and did something to always better myself along the way. I then joined the U.S. Army for a job that would be productive and carry me into retirement and after. While serving my 20-year military career I was blessed to work for and with some of the BEST leaders and mentors possible. They were always guiding me and others and helping us learn important life skills. I joined the Veterans Advisory Board for San Juan County to give back to those who served; to pass on the care and support I had the fortune of receiving. All who serve are worthy of our thanks and support.

Steven Jehly

Steve has served on the VAB since 2010.

I was in the Navy from 1967 to 1970 and did a tour in Vietnam on the ship. In 1967 I had gotten a draft notice to go and take a physical. I instead went up to Treasure Island and joined the Naval Reserve. I was brought on active duty a year later and ended up in Vietnam anyways. Thanks to President Nixon and early out, I was able to get out in December 1969. While on R&R leave, we had visited Tokyo, Japan and toured the Olympic Swim Stadium. This photo is me in front of the Olympic Swim Stadium. A couple of decades ago the people of San Juan County voted to set aside funds to help our veterans in need. I feel honored to be able to help carry out that generous mandate to aid our veterans.

Gordon Koenig

Gordon is in his third year of serving on the VAB.

Most of the Veterans who are being helped by the VAB are of an age that means they served at a time when they had no choice. The draft was in full swing and they put their young lives on hold to serve their country. It makes me feel good to be able to offer them a helping hand, either in the form of financial assistance or advice on how to access their VA benefits. They helped all of us at one time and it is an honor to return the favor.

Barry Neville

I served in the Navy from 1967 to 1970. My first duty station as an Avation Electronics Technician was Naval Air Station (NAS) Agana, Guam. My duties were all related to servicing and operating the aircraft navigation and communication systems, which included numerous flights and layovers in and out of Vietnam. I was also temporarily assigned to NAS Crash Crew, some of which was more challenging than my time in Vietnam. My next duty station, I served aboard the USS Ticonderoga, off the coast of Viet Nam. My duties were the servicing of aviation electronic counter-measure systems. In 1969, the USS Ticonderoga along with three other carrier groups sailed to North Korea for a show of force following the downing of a Navy plane. My last duty station was Moffett Field in Mt. View, California. While there, I received a hardship discharge a few months early due to the passing of my father and resulting family issues.