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Nonprofit aids Newton-area veterans with physical, mental challenges
Veterans Support Group
Veterans Support Group CFO Jim Dunn stands with his service dog outside the McDonough office of the nonprofit he founded with the late Bob Van Dunk. - photo by Special Photo

MCDONOUGH, Ga. — Some veterans may have found that maneuvering through the maze of paperwork to receive federal benefits was harder than finding their way through unfamiliar overseas jungles or mountains.  

Jim Dunn and Bob Van Dunk also found out the hard way about the red tape involved in filing service-related claims for benefits. 

They met as volunteers at the Stockbridge VA Outpatient Clinic and went on to form a partnership in September 2018 that became the Veterans Support Group Inc. (VSG).

The nonprofit is officially the Henry County Veterans Support Group Inc. but serves veterans from anywhere — though they primarily come from Henry, Newton and Clayton counties, Dunn said.

It was founded with the purpose of “supporting veterans from all branches of service with free assistance with service-related claims, providing guidance in obtaining medical attention and housing and through weekly support group meetings,” according to its website. 

Dunn is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Marine Corps from 1969 to 1973. 

He worked in the automotive industry in finance and sales before retiring and working as a school bus driver for the Henry County School System for four years.

He also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time in the service, he said.

After retiring, Dunn volunteered at the Stockbridge VA Outpatient Clinic assisting veterans at the check-in desk — which is where he met Van Dunk and discovered veterans’ increasing need for assistance with filing for VA benefits.

Van Dunk died in February, leaving Dunn to lead the fast-growing organization which outgrew two locations before settling in its current offices in a historic home on Jonesboro Street in McDonough.

Dunn recalled that word got out about the nonprofit so quickly that veterans needing assistance were “sitting in the lobby” of a former location and waiting on assistance.

With the help of some city and county officials and a grant from the Home Depot Foundation, it was able to move and expand its services in its current location at 32 Jonesboro St.

VSG helps veterans with paperwork for service-related claims which can reach 100 pages, he said.

“We play it straight with them,” he said. “We never make a promise like a lot of people do.”

Dunn said VSG’s assistance includes giving details to the veterans about what records are needed for filing a claim, such as medical records and personnel files.

“It’s a long process sometimes,” he said. “(The VA) wants to know if it’s a chronic thing.”

He recalled VSG helping a 99-year-old veteran of three wars file his first claim recently.

“Some of them have never been in the medical system,” Dunn said.

VSG also seeks to help homeless veterans by offering a washer, dryer, shower facilities and a food pantry, Dunn said.

“We try to help them find a place to live,” he said. 

The nonprofit will also assist widows and widowers of veterans with filing claims for benefits, or children of veterans with arrangements for nursing home care for parents.

“We’ll do anything we can do for a veteran,” Dunn said.

Its Thursday group sessions are intended to help veterans deal with such unseen service-related illnesses as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he said.

Dunn said he found most veterans whose suffer from the disorder — gained through the stress of battle and being on guard against attacks — won’t talk about it with those who weren’t in combat.

“(Civilians) can’t understand it,” he said.

He said vets suffering from PTSD in the sessions both men and women. They may be as old as Vietnam veterans, or as young as recent service in Afghanistan.

“They could be like me — I’ve lived with it for 40 years,” Dunn said, as his service dog Marley barked in the background.

He said some participants stay a few weeks, while some have been in the group for more than two months.

“It depends on how fast (veterans) want to admit they have problems,” he said. “A lot of younger guys, they don’t want to talk.”

Dunn said he helps sufferers learn about what triggers serious reactions to the mental disorder and how to “have a coping mechanism.”

“You have to learn to live with it and to calm it back down,” he said.

For more information, call (770) 284-3306 or visit