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Honorably serving those who served honorably

Clark County Veterans Assistance Center is there for those in need

VANCOUVER — The Clark County Veterans Assistance Center opened in 2011 with a promise from a dozen or so Vietnam veterans.

“We’re not going to allow service men and women who are coming home now to be treated the way we were treated. That is how this place started,” said Judy Russel, the president of the center and a wife of a Vietnam vet.

Judy Russel, the president of the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center, is married to a Vietnam veteran. The center, at 1305 Columbia Street in Vancouver, is open Monday through Friday. Photo by Paul Valencia
Judy Russel, the president of the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center, is married to a Vietnam veteran. The center, at 1305 Columbia Street in Vancouver, is open Monday through Friday. Photo by Paul Valencia

“There needed to be a place veterans could come to have coffee, talk to each other, and get referrals for services,” Russel said.

The Clark County Veterans Assistance Center opened in 2011 with the idea to ensure veterans are welcomed, honored, and served.
The Clark County Veterans Assistance Center opened in 2011 with the idea to ensure veterans are welcomed, honored, and served.

Today, the center is so much more than that.

“We kind of grew from a referral center into a one-stop shop for veterans,” Russel said.

Since 2011, people and area businesses have donated clothing, backpacks, sleeping bags, food, and more.

Friday night, the center will hold its sixth Black and White Gala at Heathman Lodge to raise more funds to continue providing its services.

“A lot of the public doesn’t know we are here,” Russel said. “We’re trying to raise awareness of the center.”

The Clark County Veterans Assistance Center is at 1305 Columbia Street in Vancouver and is open five days a week. The center feeds veterans breakfast and lunch on most days, thanks to donations from area businesses. Russell noted Paper Tiger Coffee, Starbucks, and Costco, among others, for their generosity.

The “shop” in the center is packed with food, clothing, shoes, and other supplies.

The Clark County Veterans Assistance Center has a shop of sorts in the back, helping veterans with food, clothing, shoes and other supplies. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Clark County Veterans Assistance Center has a shop of sorts in the back, helping veterans with food, clothing, shoes and other supplies. Photo by Paul Valencia

“We’ve been blessed,” Russel said. “The people who do know about us have been so generous and so caring.”

In 2013, the center bid to become the provider for Clark County’s Veteran Assistance Fund. Russel said every county in the state has funds for indigent or homeless veterans.

“If a veteran is within 150 percent of the poverty level, we are able to assist financially,” Russel said. “With housing, utilities, food, auto repair, burial services, tools for work, and clothes for work.”

Veterans who receive such aid must have received an honorable discharge from the service.

The center has dedicated service officers who file claims for veterans in need.

Veterans arriving at the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center see this sign posted inside the facility. This is a place for them. Photo by Paul Valencia
Veterans arriving at the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center see this sign posted inside the facility. This is a place for them. Photo by Paul Valencia

Athena Lowing of Battle Ground, a U.S. Army veteran, was a victim of domestic violence and living in her car with her children when she heard that the center could help with car repairs. That initial visit to the center changed her life.

“I didn’t realize all that they had going on here,” Lowing said. “It was a little secret.”


Clark County Veterans Assistance Center Black and White Gala

The Clark County Veterans Assistance Center will hold its sixth Black and White Gala, a fundraiser for the center, Friday at Heathman Lodge. Cocktails will be served at 5:30 p.m. with dinner at 6:30 p.m. There will be a live auction and a silent auction. The guest speaker is expected to be Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle.

As of Wednesday morning, most of the tickets have been purchased. Call (360) 693-7030 for more information and seating availability.

For more information, or to donate, go to the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center’s website: http://ccvac.net/ 


All she wanted was help with a repair for her car.

“Then they asked, ‘What about this program? Or this program? Or this program?’ I was unaware,” Lowing said.

She thought most of those benefits were only for retired veterans.

Instead, the center helped her escape a dangerous situation by helping her and her children get into housing. The center also encouraged Lowing to use the G.I. Bill, and helped her file for that benefit. Today, Lowing is a student at Clark College. She also helps out at the center.

“I told them when I was back on my feet, I’ll be back volunteering,” Lowing said.

“She is just one of our success stories,” Russel said. “We have a lot more.”

Some veterans just appreciate being appreciated, having a place they can visit, to share experiences with others who understand.

“For the most part, our veterans are very respectful,” Russel said. “They care and look out for each other. This is their safe place. This is where they come to rest, have some food, talk to other veterans, maybe play a game of cards … just relax.

“There is a code of conduct they are expected to follow. We also understand a lot have traumatic brain injuries or PTSD. We try to be cognizant of that fact when we deal with them,” Russel said.

In all, there are about 40 people who work for the center, with only four paid employees. The rest are volunteers.

“Everyone you meet here has come to us because veterans are our passion,” Russel said.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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