Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

August 6, 2009

Mission Valley Veterans Center open for business

By B.L. Azure

Leo Tellier (right) and Charlie Blood talk to Lake County Leader reporter Aimee Niles about the Mission Valley Veterans Center. (B.L. Azure photo)
Leo Tellier (right) and Charlie Blood talk to Lake County Leader reporter Aimee Niles about the Mission Valley Veterans Center. (B.L. Azure photo)

ST. IGNATIUS - Military veterans have made sacrifices in their lives to serve America and their fellow citizens. Many of those who served paid the ultimate price in America’s wars and in times of peace. And all of them have paid the residual price - collateral damage - of their involvement in wars.

Many promises were made to those that served but many of the promises were not kept and many of those that were kept were the short shrift version. Consequently military veterans have had to once again fight for their rights but it is a lonely fight individually. Every veteran knows that it takes more than one to win a battle but where does one go for allies after their service. The answers often were the local fraternal organizations such as the VFW and American Legion.

Those organizations exist on the Flathead Reservation but what is often lacking is a building to hold formal and informal meetings for those organizations. The VFW has had a physical presence in Polson for a long time and within the last few years the Ronan VFW chapter has obtained a building to house the organization.

The Mission Valley Veterans Center is located just down the street from the Longhouse on Blind Barnaby Street. (B.L. Azure photo)
The Mission Valley Veterans Center is located just down the street from the Longhouse on Blind Barnaby Street. (B.L. Azure photo)

Now St. Ignatius has a building to house the American Legion Post 106 there, thanks to the Salish Kootenai Housing Authority and the Mission Valley Honor Guard. But the Mission Valley Veterans Center is not just for members of the American Legion or the Mission Valley Honor Guard, according to Leo Tellier, one of the main pushes behind getting a place for military veterans in St. Ignatius and a founding member of the MVHG.

“The Mission Valley Veterans Center is not just for the members of the honor guard or Indian veterans,” Tellier said. “It is for all veterans.”

Tellier said he approached the Salish Kootenai Housing Authority about the possibility of the Mission Valley Honor Guard purchasing a FEMA trailer from them to house the Veterans Center.

“We had heard they (SKHA) had some FEMA trailers available so we asked them about buying one,” Tellier said. “Jason Adams (SKHA director) said this building was available and he offered it to us at no cost as long as we serve all veterans.”

The Mission Honor Guard signed a one-year lease with SKHA in April and began to move in a month later after doing some minor maintenance on the interior and exterior.

Tellier is very pleased to have the Veterans Center in St. Ignatius. It provides the MVHG with a base of operation as well as a meeting place for them and other veterans’ organizations in the Mission and Jocko valleys. There are 36 members of the MVHG with an active core group of 26. Age and health conditions limit active participation by the others.

“We just didn’t have anywhere for veterans to go here until we got this place,” Tellier said of the doublewide trailer on Blind Barnaby Street.

The MVHG is a very busy group especially with all the summer activities in Lake County and the Flathead Indian Reservation. They are a fixture in the area parades but their main duty is providing their services at funerals for deceased veterans or active military personal killed while in service to the country. The latter duty is exacerbated by the MVHG being asked to be present at funerals off the reservation. They have been performing many graveside services for deceased veterans in Missoula County site of a new state veterans cemetery.

“It’s nice to have so many members because we have a busy schedule and many can’t get time off from work or they may have something planned when we are called upon,” Tellier said.

There are various informational pamphlets and booklets related to military service and benefits related to that service at the center.

Lloyd Jackson, the tribal Veterans Administration representative, visits the Mission Valley Veterans Center twice a month to assist veterans seeking help with the morass of VA paperwork.

“The VA has 10,000 forms and if you’re dealing with the VA you need to fill out the forms properly,” Jackson said. “Without the forms you don’t have anything to state your claim on. At first I took it upon myself to help veterans fill out the forms in the language the VA likes.”

Eventually the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council appointed Jackson to that position to deal with tribal veterans and all other veterans.

Jackson said that having a physical location such as the veterans’ center is critical. It provides veterans with a nice comfortable place to come and meet with a VA representative as well as providing them a place to gather for other purposes.

“This is a great place. There will always be veterans so it makes sense to have a facility like this for them,” Jackson said. “This is something that has been needed for a long time and I am really glad that these guys in Mission went ahead and did the work needed to get this established. This is a veterans’ information center that has a lot of beneficial information for veterans. They can come here and find out what benefits are available to them.”

Jackson said that the VA has gone through some enormous changes in the past 10 years and in the last three years the changes have been for the better.

There are now veterans clinics located in Kalispell and Missoula that veterans can now go to instead of Fort Harrison, near Helena. However, he added that for some services the veterans still have to go to Fort Harrison.

There are flags from all branches of the military as well as the POW-MIA flag and the Flathead Nation flag. Photos of the MVHG members at various functions as well as photos of veterans line the walls as does a Vietnam service banner with an eagle feather imposed over it.

Tellier said plans are in the works for having an “open house” for the public and veterans. The in-the-works project could include food, speakers and displays.

The MVHG is also looking for photos of past parades they have been in, especially those following World War II.

The Veterans Center at 240 Blind Barnaby Lane (two blocks west of the Longhouse) is open from noon to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Presently retiree and Korea War veteran Jack Drowatzky mans the center and keeps the coffee percolating and keeps a close watch on the donuts.

VA representative Lloyd Jackson will be at the Mission Valley Veterans Center twice a month to assist veterans. He will be there Wednesday, Aug. 12 and Wednesday, Aug. 26 from 1-3 p.m. each day. Veterans are advised to bring their DD-214 discharge papers.

For more information about the Mission Valley Honor Guard Veterans Center contact Leo Tellier at 370-2689.

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