Dale Graham is a man with a mission.
When he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, his mission involved trekking through the jungles where he was stationed during the Vietnam War. Graham has long since retired from active duty and now fights for a different cause: supporting fellow veterans.
In 2009, he founded Veterans Corner. The nonprofit operates out of the community center in Goldsby. Every Thursday morning, the volunteers assemble. From 7 a.m. until noon they help veterans fill out claims for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“A lot of people who come to us don’t have anything but Social Security money,” Graham said. “They come from all over Oklahoma. Sometimes we even have guys come up from Texas.”
Filling out forms for veterans benefits can be time-consuming and complicated, Graham said. Some of the stacks of paperwork are as thick as a novel, and one mistake can result in the whole form being rejected.
Graham has been accredited as a claims agent by the VA, and the volunteers at Veterans Corner all have received training. The volunteers are nearly all veterans or military spouses themselves, and many received help from Veterans Corner at some point.
John Carter is a former Navy pilot and Vietnam veteran who came to the program five years ago for help filing a claim for tinnitus he developed as a result of his service. Now Carter volunteers regularly to help others.
“We mostly see Vietnam vets, but we’re beginning to get more young people in who were in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Carter. “There’s an empathy among warriors. They know they can get help here.”
As word of the Veterans Corner has spread, its popularity has grown. On a typical Thursday, more than 200 veterans or family members arrive as early as 5:30 a.m. to get in line.
The volunteers, armed with laptops and knowledge of the VA system, process as many as they can. Free coffee and donuts are provided for people waiting in line.