JOLIET – Joseph Rowell likes to read. The Vietnam veteran also likes to watch the shows “Jeopardy!” and “Cops,” as well as The Weather Channel.
But his ability to watch his favorite shows was taken away in February. A building in Lockport he had lived in for more than 20 years was condemned by the city, and he had to vacate his apartment.
He didn’t have a DD-214, a U.S. Department of Defense-issued document identifying a veteran’s condition of discharge: honorable, general, other than honorable, dishonorable or bad conduct. That means he couldn’t qualify for specific veterans’ benefits. Rowell receives $840 a month from Social Security, and at the time, more than $750 of it was going toward his rent and meals.
This made finding permanent housing a challenge. There was nothing else available in Lockport.
That’s where Jack Picciolo, chairman of the Will County Veterans Assistance Commission, came in. He found the Star Motel in Joliet to be the least expensive lodging in the area. Then, people representing various entities came together to help Rowell.
The city of Lockport, which confirmed Friday that it did not know there was a veteran living in the building at the time of condemnation, paid for a portion of Rowell’s rent between February and June, as did the VFW Department of Illinois, the Lockport VFW post and the Will County Center for Community Concerns.
Erik Papineau, assistant superintendent at the Will County VAC, said Rowell’s is just one of the success stories to come out of the VAC since it moved into a new location last fall. The VAC now shares space at 2400 Glenwood Ave. in Joliet with the Workforce Services Division of Will County, located down the hall. The Will County Center for Community Concerns is across the street.
Through these working relationships, VAC staff can more quickly find help for veterans. Papineau said many veterans have bounced around while trying to find help for themselves and other veterans. But they’ve learned how the system works because of it.
“Come in, and we can find someone to help you,” Papineau said. “An actual person, not a random phone number. People are tired of getting tossed around.”
The office is three times the size of the old location and serves far more veterans. Papineau said Will County has one of the busiest VACs in the state and its reach continues to grow.
Rowell said he’d recommend fellow veterans contact the VAC for assistance.
“They’ve helped me a lot,” Rowell said.
Rowell was finally accepted into the VA system in June and received a HUD-VASH voucher for housing at Joshua Arms Senior Residences in Joliet, where he now resides.
Due to his health problems, he had to be placed in an assisted living room. He is receiving health benefits along with housing.
On Friday, Picciolo and Papineau delivered and installed a new flat-screen TV for Rowell to watch his favorite shows. It was paid for by Lockport American Legion John Olson Post 18.
Lockport City Administrator Ben Benson said city officials wanted to make sure Rowell had a place to live and they are glad the situation took a positive turn.
Even the TV came in better than expected: Picciolo had written to Post 18 Commander Mike Meyers and asked his organization to purchase a 32-inch flat-screen for Joe Rowell.
They did one better: Post 18 was able to get on sale a 42-inch flat-screen. Picciolo said he had previously furnished two old, not-cable-ready TVs for Rowell that were donated; both had problems.
Picciolo and Papineau are now looking into cable systems or an antenna that will work with Rowell’s new high-definition TV.
To learn more about the Will County VAC, call 815-740-8389 or visit 2400 Glenwood Ave. in Joliet.