2018-07-22 / Insight


Veterans — Stop by and visit at State Fair this week

ED RONDERS ED RONDERS Editor’s note: The following column was written by Edward L. Ronders, director of the Lapeer County Veterans Affairs Office. L ittle did William

Bourgeois realize when he separated from the U.S. Army in 1991, he had a long road ahead of him.

He’s still on that journey 17 years later.

Except he’s exchanged his Army 5-ton truck for an upgraded ride that has taken him across parts of the country ranging from Springfield, Illinois to New York state. Thursday (July 26) Bourgeois’ journey will bring him back for the fourth year to Imlay City for the Eastern Michigan State Fair.

Bourgeois’ visit is not merely a pit stop in his post Army life. It’s a career.

A career he vehemently eschewed upon turning in his Army uniform. “When I left the Army, I vowed I was never going to drive a truck again,” he said, emphasizing “NEVER.”

The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Mobile Vet Center, affectionately dubbed “The VetMobile,” will be on hand during the Eastern Michigan State Fair. The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Mobile Vet Center, affectionately dubbed “The VetMobile,” will be on hand during the Eastern Michigan State Fair. For sure, he’s not driving a truck to the Imlay City fairgrounds. He’s driving a U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Mobile Vet Center, affectionately dubbed “The VetMobile.”

The 28-foot long RV is jam-packed with equipment, sleeping quarters, a satellite link to access the internet and the array of VA benefit forms, a full coffee pot and a popcorn popper to boot. The program is designed to bring information about veteran benefits and help to veterans in rural areas.

Veterans stop by and visit with Bourgeois and veteran service officers to reminisce or inquire about benefits and request military records. A one stop, VetMobile.

He’s traveled across the state, Indiana, Illinois and other points in between in his new career. A weekend at the home of the Chicago Cubs minor league team over Memorial Day weekend was one stop. County Fairs, Veteran events and even Opening Day of Firearm Deer season at Ray C’s in Lapeer have been among his many stops.

You won’t miss Bourgeois if you come to the fair. He and his VetMobile have the best parking spot in the house — right up front by the gate. He and the VetMobile act as the nerve center for veterans. Thanks to Kroger of Imlay City, veterans receive free admission to the fair that day. The only stipulation is vets must check in at the VetMobile and present identification (DD214), a service organization membership card or VA Health Care Card. And say hello to Bourgeois.

LCVA accredited service officers will be at the VetMobile Thursday, available to answer questions about benefits and services. With internet capabilities, Bourgeois can access vital VA forms on site, including the 180 — a request for obtaining military records, such as the important DD 214. And, did we mention the popcorn machine — providing a free snack for vets who stop to visit?

Bourgeois was a VA work study student at Detroit’s Wayne State University when the VA rolled out the VetMobile program in 2012.

“A friend said I should apply,” he said. “I did and I got the job.” He and the VetMobile are assigned to the Pontiac Vet Center.

Six years and 53,000 miles later, Bourgeois is still driving and still meeting and helping his fellow veterans with the 28-foot RV. His winding road has provided some poignant memories. There’s been nights and weekends on the road, away from home and family. Yet, one of the job’s benefits is the veterans Bourgeois meets in his travels.

He recalled a WW II nurse he encountered this summer in Roscommon. The 99-yearold nurse shared memories of meeting her husband while in the military.

“She was a character and made certain to tell me she wasn’t senile,” he said. “I enjoy what I do. If you listen to the vets, you can pick up nuggets (of information).”

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