I was born and raised in the Gem City. I entered the US Army right after graduating high school in 1987. I served six years active duty with the 82nd Airborne Division and I am a veteran of Desert Shield/Storm. My term ended in 1993 and when I returned to Dayton I encountered barriers in filing my claim for disability.
Even though my injuries were eligible, I was denied. I was out of the service for four years and joined the Ohio Army National Guard. After 28 years of total service, I retired in July 2018 as a Chief Warrant Officer Three. The number one reason I decided to stay here is because of family and friends. The second reason is that I have seen a vast improvement in access to benefits and resources for veterans and their families since I was denied back in 1993.
While veterans are eligible for many local, state and federal services, finding help and bypassing the red tape from multiple agencies can be frustrating at best and, at worst, an insurmountable barrier for stressed, ill, aging, or disabled veterans or their loved ones. United Way of the Greater Dayton Area had the goal of expanding their very successful HelpLink 211 program that offers 24/7, 365 assistance. VetsLink 211 mirrored that program with intention so veterans could talk with veterans to share benefits and resources.
After I retired, I chose to get involved. I joined the VetsLink team in October of 2018 and we launched prior to Veterans Day of the same year. My vision aligned with Rosalie Bonacci-Roberts as she welcomed myself and Charla Simerson MSGT, USAF (Ret). We immediately recognized, based on the calls received, that the needs of veterans were high in the Miami Valley.
Since its launch, VetsLink 211, along with veteran and community partners, has connected thousands of veterans with the resources they need. The most-referred needs are rent payment, utility and food pantry assistance. United Way tracks all referrals and conducts follow ups to facilitate if the veteran’s needs are met and work with those agencies for resolution. Our region is the only one in the country with this amazing service and we are working hard to spread this best practice across Ohio and beyond.
As a community, we are already doing a better job supporting our veterans and their families. I have seen and experienced increased support, most notably from Dayton VAMC Mark Murdock; Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission Kim Frisco, Executive Director; Executive Director of Greene County Veterans Services, Tim Espich; Montgomery County Recorder Brandon McLain; Blue Star Families Dr. Geri Maples; Adrienne Clark of the WPAFB Wounded Warriors; and Dr. Cassie Barlow of the Greater Miami Valley myVeteran Community, just to name a few.
We are undeniably on the right path and doing what it takes to attract and retain veterans by putting our veterans and their families first with improved access to benefits, resources and employment opportunities.
A native of the Dayton area, Keesan Lasley is the current Director of United Way’s HelpLink 211 assistance center, a retired Chief Warrant Officer, and a US Army Veteran who specializes in helping other veterans access services.