In Hanover, Vets Get Helping Hand
Robert Chambers of Etna
Hanover — Danielle Goodwin once thought Hanover wasn’t exactly a veteran-friendly town. After all, it doesn’t have its own American Legion, and veterans used to receive a paltry $50 tax credit.
But since cofounding Project VetCare in September and organizing two days of veteran workshops at Hanover High School, Goodwin has begun to change her mind. Project VetCare, which operates out of a small office above Boloco on Main Street, aims to educate veterans about what types of benefits they might be eligible for and then help them fill out daunting application forms, which can run as long as 17 pages.
“I really see going forward, veterans will have a place to go in the community and there will be more camaraderie. In the past, they were more separate from each other,” said Pete Hagstrom, a member of the organization’s board of directors.
Hagstrom served in the Army from 2005 to 2010 and is a first-year student at the Tuck School of Business, who was introduced to Goodwin at a veteran’s barbecue in August. She invited him to join the board because he shared her concern that Hanover veterans need someone to advocate on behalf of them.
At Town Meeting earlier this year, Robert Chambers, a Vietnam veteran, and Goodwin encouraged voters to increase the town’s optional veterans’ tax credit from $50 to $500. The tax credit allows veterans to pay $500 less in taxes while the town and other residents make up the difference.
When advocating for increasing the tax credit, Chambers and Goodwin learned that many veterans didn’t even know they were eligible for the benefit. So Project VetCare was created with the goal of helping to provide that kind of information, said Goodwin, herself the wife of a Hanover veteran.
Written on the door to the organization’s office on Main Street are the words: “Project VetCare Inc. Veterans Welcome.” Inside is a single-room office with light yellow walls and a donated green couch. In fact, most items in the office are donated, including a microwave, a television and a photo of a solider from 1942 taken in Italy. The photo sits on the windowsill and was presented by a woman that Goodwin helped to apply for a widow’s pension.
Goodwin said she wants to create a nurturing environment where veterans can come into the office to access the Internet — or just watch television.
At the same time, Goodwin volunteers to travel to veteran’s homes to assist them in completing benefit forms. Since the nonprofit doesn’t charge for its service, she’s often paid with macaroni and cheese or cookies.
Project VetCare is applying for nonprofit status, but for now it’s been given “fiscal sponsorship” from Vital Communities so it can claim nonprofit status while it applies for grants.
The organization has helped 16 veterans to date with benefit forms and has 13 others scheduled for appointments. Of those veterans, five of them signed up for the maximum $500 tax credit, including one who was also eligible for a $2,000 disability tax credit.
Confirming the strength of Hanover’s veteran community, Chambers hosted a barbecue at his Etna home in August and 80 vets showed up. And when Chambers and Goodwin shared their idea for starting a nonprofit with the group, the attendees encouraged them to go for it. (Chambers also co-founded Bonnie CLAC, a nonprofit that helps people who are struggling financially to purchase reliable cars. The organization is now called More Than Wheels.)
Afterward, Chambers and Goodwin sent letters to Hanover’s 158 veterans telling them that they helped get the town to boost the tax credit to $500 and asked if they would donate 50 percent of the credit to their new organization. About 15 percent replied with a donation.
As the nonprofit grows, Chambers and Goodwin have lofty goals. They would like to advocate for better health care options on behalf of veterans at the national level. And they would like to reach out to Lebanon and other nearby towns to help get their local tax credits increased. But first they need to find volunteers in those towns to help take up the cause.
“A lot of people will say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ but then they think their job is done,” Goodwin said. “So we’re going to put that to the test and actually get people who are not veterans to help us as well.”
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.