A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out: A Q&A with OMVA Liaison Ray Flores

Ray Flores at the County of San Diego Office of Military and Veterans Affairs. Photo by Charlie Neuman

by Anne Stokes

After serving 21 years in the U.S. Navy, Ray Flores “retired” to civilian life. Today, he’s again serving his fellow veterans through the San Diego County Office of Military & Veterans Affairs as liaison to the San Diego Veterans Coalition, a nonprofit support network across the San Diego region, home to the nation’s second largest veteran population.

What role does the OMVA play in getting veterans any help they may need?

If you do a Google search for “veteran homelessness,” “housing” or “employment,” and then there’s 47,000 hits, where do you start? It can be extremely intimidating and overwhelming, and that’s where the OMVA comes in. We can say, “Here’s the top three we recommend.” (And) it’s more than just VA benefits … we do counseling for a variety of other benefits that they are eligible for. Every veteran we work with, when they come into the office or schedule an appointment for one matter or concern, more than likely there’s two or three other (issues) as well—it could be spouse employment, it could be child care, it could be housing, it could be education—and that’s where the men and women who serve at the OMVA can point veterans toward great resources that are out there in the community and that these veterans and their families may not know about yet.

In addition to the San Diego Veterans Coalition, what organizations and agencies does the OMVA partner with to connect veterans with those community resources?

We partner with the San Diego Military Family Collaborative, we partner with the Veterans Association of North County, we partner with the American Legion, which is across San Diego County, we partner with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, we work with Rotary, we work with Elks, we work with Optimists. … We network with networks so that our message—“Here’s what we are, here’s what we do, and we’re available”—is out there so veterans and their families know who to call.

Navigating the VA system is a big obstacle for many veterans. How can OMVA staff help?

That’s where the members of the OMVA staff are at their finest. They’ve been there, done that, they’ve seen it all and they’re able to help veterans and their families navigate a rather complex and intricate path, depending on their needs. We have a number of great VSRs, veterans service representatives, who previously worked at the VA and they have their own experience managing their own benefits. … We’re able to translate that incredible wealth of knowledge, expertise and experience directly to the veterans and families we provide support for.

What do you want veterans to know about the OMVA and how they can help?

We’re more than a voice on the phone, we’re more than somebody sitting across from somebody else at a desk. … We have four locations staffed with men and women who have served just like they did, and who have knowledge and resources that these homeless veterans can benefit from.

It’s that old phrase: “It’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up,” … We give them the runway, we give them the distance, and we give them the stability.

To see how the OMVA can help you, visit www.sandiegocounty.gov, call 1-866-726-8831 or email sdcvso.hhsa@sdcounty.ca.gov for more information.