More than just veterans day

On the 11th of each month, the Yakima Herald-Republic will bring you stories from area veterans about their experiences, in the service and back home, as part of our series Valley Vets

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Jim Dyjak grew up in a family with a rich military tradition.

His father served on submarines and his brothers also served in the military, as did his sons. The Moxee man thought about following his father into the Navy’s submarine service, but instead opted for the U.S. Coast Guard.

“I wanted to see where I was going and where I had been, and you don’t have windows in a submarine,” Dyjak said.

Today, Dyjak is working on raising awareness of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ community-based outreach clinic on Fruitvale Boulevard, as well as helping veterans navigate the VA system to get the help they need.

Watch: Moxee veteran works to help connect vets with VA services

Dyjak, who was born in Michigan and lived in New London, Conn. — home to a Navy sub base and the Coast Guard Academy — joined the Coast Guard in 1976 and was initially assigned to a Seattle-based icebreaker that spent winters clearing passages off Alaska. He also spent time on a Coast Guard cutter and a lightship off the Washington coast before being assigned to a newly commissioned icebreaker, leaving the service in 1987 after a back injury disqualified him for sea duty.

Like many veterans, Dyjak said he did not list that he was medically discharged from the military on job applications, as veterans fear that it might be a red flag to employers. Instead, he would say that he was honorably discharged.

But one of the first things he did when he got out, learning from his father, was to sign up with the VA so he would be eligible for benefits.

He went to work as a civilian employee working on conventional submarine weapons at Keyport before transferring to Kings Bay, Ga., where he retired in 1995.

He moved back to Washington so his wife could be with her family.

“She followed me around, so I followed her,” Dyjak said.

He started going to the VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Yakima to address his back issues, now a weekly routine.

While the VA has issues with wait times, Dyjak said it is really no different than a private clinic.

About four months ago, Dyvak learned that the clinic was looking to get people involved in its Veterans Advisory Council, a group of VA patients and staffers who meet to discuss issues that veterans are having with service.

The first meeting he went to consisted of himself, another veteran and three clinic staff members. He has been active on the council, and he’s noted that attendance is increasing.

One of the issues Dyvak is pushing to address is increasing awareness of the VA’s services. He notes that the clinic’s website does little to tell veterans about the extent of services available, including mental health counseling.

More veterans would participate in the programs if they knew they were available — particularly younger veterans, he said.

And Dyjak said veterans also need to have some guidance in how to navigate the VA system, which would reduce some of the complaints.

The council meets every third Tuesday from 1-2 p.m. at the Yakima clinic, 717 Fruitvale Blvd. Veterans and their families are welcome.