A veteran of the U.S. Navy who served off the coast of North Vietnam in 1969 was appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock to serve as the Montana Board of Veterans Affairs’ new service representative for western Montana.
Ronald Milam, a retired land surveyor who also serves as the research historian for Helicopter Support Squadron 7 – to which he was assigned during the Vietnam War – must have his appointment approved by the Montana Legislature.
The former sailor knew little about veteran services when he left the military. Now, he wants to ensure other vets don’t wait as long as he did to discover the number of state and federal programs available to qualifying service members.
“I didn’t get wounded, I didn’t retire from the service, and I didn’t realize all the medical assistance available to vets,” he said. “Friends kicked me in the butt and said the assistance was available, but if you don’t know about it, you don’t seek it. Veterans served and did their time and should be aware of it.”
Milam admits that his new position didn’t come with any instructions. As he settles into the appointment, he plans to find new ways to reach veterans across a number of generations and a wide geographical area.
“You might have 240 members of the VFW in Hamilton, but only 20 or 30 know what’s going on because they attend the meetings,” he said. “It’s the other 200 that we need to get to.”
As the Region 1 representative, Milam is now responsible for reaching the estimated 20,000 military veterans who live in western Montana. That includes Missoula and Ravalli counties, along with Lake, Mineral and Sanders counties.
Missoula alone claims 9,950 veterans, according to the Montana Department of Veterans Affairs. Hamilton is home to 5,680 vets, while 3,500 call Lake County home. Roughly 10 percent of the state’s population served in the military, one of the highest numbers per capita in the country.
“What we’re trying to do is find these veterans,” he said. “With the disturbing number of suicides, we need to get ahead of this.”
The list of federal and state programs available to veterans is long. It includes the obvious, such as health care, pensions and compensation for service-connected disabilities.
But it also covers lesser-known benefits. Qualifying veterans can receive education and training, burial benefits, vehicle registration and property tax waivers, along with home and business loans.
“We’re losing our World War II veterans and the Korean War vets are often forgotten,” he said. “They are no new Vietnam vets, and the Iraq and Afghan vets are difficult to find. One of my personal goals is to find these guys and get the word out.”
Milam can be reached with questions about VA services at (406) 529-2499.