Walter G. Spang has just one goal.
"My ultimate goal is to establish a campus - a place for veterans - in Erath County," Spang said.
By campus, Spang means a facility that caters to military vets and their varied needs with on-site care and services.
"Some veterans out there can't handle life on the outside, they need living quarters," Spang said. "There are other veterans who need another type of assistance - they can live independently but still need assistance with basic needs. And then there are those that need 24-hour care."
He and others manning the front lines of Erath County Veterans, Inc. hope to one day provide hospice care to allow veterans to "close out their lives in honor and with dignity."
Spang said he envisions Erath as one day having such a facility, which could serve as a blueprint to similar organizations across the United States.
"Erath County is the type of place where that goal can be accomplished in an atmosphere that could serve as a model for the nation," he said. "Our service organizations are on board, but their hands are tied in so many areas. They do not have the ability to offer long-term
solutions and they have to rely on the VA (The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)."
He said offering needed services and accommodations in the county will give veterans a sense of freedom.
"I firmly believe veterans have earned the right to live where they choose," Spang said. "We are good at giving then a one-way bus ticket to (Dallas-Fort Worth) Metroplex, but we (in Erath County) can offer an environment that gives them peace of mind and quiet, and also allow them to be among other vets. We currently have vets in nursing homes that deserve to be surrounded by others they can relate to and give them that needed sense of comradery."
Spang is a Vietnam vet who knows all too well about the struggles veterans face. He has been disabled since 1969 and said in 1970 he received "bad treatment" from the VA.
"We had just bought a house. We were living in New Jersey at the time. My mortgage payment was the same as monthly compensation," he said. "Then one day, the VA decided there had been an error and they had at some point made double benefit payments. They said they were going to stop sending payments until they had paid themselves back."
The compensation that Spang relied on to pay the family's mortgage added up to about $239 per month. When the benefits were interrupted, he could no longer afford the payments.
"It was a very bad experience," Spang said. "It took us at least 10 years to climb out of that hole and after that experience, I wanted nothing to do with the VA."
In the early 1980s, Spang's health took a turn for the worse when a staph infection attacked his heart. He said the infection originated from a surgery several years earlier at a Naval hospital.
"I didn't even report it (the 1980s ailment) because I was afraid everything would get screwed up again," he said.
Then in 2007, Spang went to a local PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) meeting at the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) hall.
"I decided there were too many things wrong, I had too many health problems," he said. "I couldn't deal with the day-to-day anymore."
It was at that meeting that Spang discovered there were other veterans from across the county who could help.
"They helped me see what was really wrong and helped me with the process," he said. "And I am finally getting what I need."
He quickly learned the fight for services was about knowing how to file claims and the need to be persistent in seeking benefits and services.
"You have to stay on top of it," Spang said. "The process takes months, even years."
While Spang said he may not see his goal become a reality, he will spend his life working to bring a local safety net to fellow vets.
"I don't expect to live a lot longer, myself," he said. "Agent Orange is slowly killing me. I would be surprised if I live another 10 years, but when I do go, I want to leave something behind. I want to know when I check out that I was able to do something and make a difference."
Erath County Veterans Inc.
According to Spang, founder and chairman of the Erath County Veterans board of directors, the organization's mission statement speaks to the goals of the board.
"Erath County Veterans Inc. was founded to provide for the needs of veterans residing in Erath County including but not limited to shelter, food, clothing, counseling, advocacy, financial assistance, physical welfare, spiritual welfare, medical assistance and employment counseling. We shall provide by the best of our ability to meet those needs utilizing donated funds, internal ECV assets and volunteers as well as other service organizations," the mission statement reads.
Spang said when he set out on the mission, he saw a lack of support and exposure for those who provide assistance.
"We have a county service officer - Arley Echols - at the Erath County Courthouse (Annex), but I would bet the majority of our local veterans don't even know he exists. We have DAV service officers - I am one of them - and always available, but the word has to get out so they know we are here to help."
It was a call from Echols that led Spang to join forces with Pecan Valley MHMR, where he serves as a certified peer-to-peer counselor for veterans suffering from PTSD. He said that meeting also spurred the subsequent formation of ECV with the help of a few friends.
How you can help
ECV is seeking volunteers.
"I would give one of my kidneys for a doctor to say he wants to join the board," he said, adding that volunteers of all ages, backgrounds and abilities are welcome. "We are limited only by our imagination and our abilities to accomplish these goals. Our veterans answered the call and served our country admirably. Some have served at an enormous price. We can only try by the best of our abilities to provide a proper thank you."
For those who don't have the time to volunteer, monetary gifts are also needed.
For more information, call Spang at 254-965-5595 or e-mail email@example.com.
Donations can be mailed to Erath County Veterans Inc. at P.O. Box 2567 Stephenville, TX 76401.