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Veterans Helping Veterans in Sonoma County


Veterans Helping Veterans in Sonoma County

By Martina Lewis

In 2008 a small group of veterans decided that veterans needed a place to go, free of charge, to get whatever help they needed. Their mission was to provide one-stop shopping where veterans and their families can talk to volunteers, almost all veterans themselves, in areas such as veterans benefits, VA claims assistance, VA health care, legal advice, housing, furniture, clothing, counseling, and many others. One volunteer gives haircuts and another massages. About thirty services are available in a very large room in the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building every Tuesday morning from 9:00-12:00. A volunteer from BAADS (Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors) will even take veterans sailing in the San Francisco Bay! No veteran pays for anything.

No volunteer is paid a penny, not even the board of directors, who constantly look for ways to raise money (donations are tax deductible) to help as many veterans and their families as possible. “It has been my greatest pleasure to be able to help veterans to access benefits due them,” says Richard Jones, one of the founders and current president of Sonoma County Vet Connect, Inc.  

Housing issues addressed

Lee Hoskins, a real estate agent, is available for veterans wanting to purchase a house. “I volunteer at Vet Connect to help all veterans with permanent housing issues,” Lee says, “whether they can afford to purchase a home locally or in other areas in the North Bay.” He adds, “I find it very rewarding to share this information with others.” If buying a house is beyond a veteran’s means, the volunteers with the VA, North Bay Veterans Resource Center, or HUD-VASH can help find shelter for the veterans and their families.

Need a DD214?

One of the valuable areas of help is for veterans who have lost or misplaced their DD214. Paperwork for replacing it can be started at the North Bay Veterans Resource Center table, and directions for completing the process will be given. Obtaining a VA card involves a photograph, and VRC can direct inquirers to the necessary location to obtain a new one.

Wanna buy a duck?

 “Can I buy one of those little duckies?” people often ask when they approach the sign-in desk on Tuesday mornings. ”Sorry, they aren’t for sale,” they’re told. The founders of Vet Connect are so adamant about everything being free, they won’t even allow duckies to be sold on Tuesdays mornings.

However! There are many ways duckies can be bought. These little rubber cuties are only about two inches high and an inch and a half wide, but they pack yards worth of fun for kids, ages two to ninety-two. Not only are the duckies cute, they’re also very affordable! A dollar each. A buck a duck. What perfect gifts for birthdays, holidays, or any old days. There are duckies for every occasion. Holiday duckies. Surfer duckies. Military duckies. The newest additions to the ducky line are duckies whose eyes pop out when squeezed. “The most popular ducky is the rainbow unicorn. Girls love them,” says Jerry Kromer, a volunteer who sometimes mans the Vet Connect booth that you can visit the second and fourth Saturday of every month at the Farmers Market by the Veterans Memorial Building. When asked about the volume of ducky business, volunteer Dave Kistenmacher says, “We’re always busy.”

Beginning May 4, Vet Connect will have a booth at the 4th Street Wednesday Night Market. Every Wednesday for sixteen weeks you can visit the booth and add to your collection of duckies, which will be the booth’s featured items.

There are two other events coming up when you will have a chance to buy duckies. Vet Connect will have a Ducky Booth at the Rose Parade Festival on Saturday, May 21, and on May 29 you can look for a booth at Veterans’ Appreciation Day in the Village Court at Montgomery Village.

So it’s duckies here, duckies there, duckies everywhere. Buy a duck and help a vet!

Vet Connect sites

In addition to Tuesday mornings in Santa Rosa, Vet Connect is also offered in Guerneville, Sonoma, and Petaluma. Visit the Vet Connect website at for locations and times.