HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Still Serving Veterans, a nonprofit in Huntsville, aims to make life easier for those who have selflessly served our country.
The staff is mostly made up of people just like those they help: veterans.
“I always knew when I looked at the flag that people served it and I wanted to be like them,” explained Jaymie Testman, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and current veterans benefits counselor at Still Serving Veterans. “You can’t expect people to do for you.”
After several years working in graphic design for the USMC, she ended up in Huntsville and jumped at an opportunity to help others like her.
“I wanted to serve veterans. That’s a big part of who I am,” she said.
That’s exactly what she aims to do at Still Serving Veterans. The nonprofit helps those who served our country in many ways.
Some of the staff connect vets with career opportunities, and others, like Testman, help them apply for and access Veterans Affairs Disability benefits they’ve earned.
“Some people have money and they don’t need the money they just need to feel like the VA has acknowledged them or the military, government has acknowledged them,” Testman said. “Sometimes it’s that they don’t have enough money for food. They need their benefits so they can have money for health care.”
When she talks to vets, Testman speaks from experience. She made her first VA benefits claim after starting work at the nonprofit.
“I personally didn’t feel like I had the right to make a claim, because I didn’t serve in combat and because I served certain years and because my injuries weren’t combat related,” she explained. “After having broken my femur in the Marine Corps, anybody today would be like, ‘no absolutely you need to make a claim.’ But back then it wasn’t the same.”
Testman’s not alone in this work.
A majority of the staff at Still Serving Veterans are veterans or veterans’ spouses, including Air Force veteran Kristyn Garstka who now serves as the nonprofit’s operations manager.
“I actually was a client here before I started working here. I loved the services that were offered,” Garstka said. “I just wanted to help veterans, because I know I’m not the only person out there that wasn’t given the opportunity when they retired or separated from the military, so I just wanted to kind of be that voice like, ‘I’ve been through it and there is help.'”
People who serve in the military raise their hands to sign up for the possibility of going to war.
“I think there’s something to be said when two veterans sit in a room and talk about something. Doesn’t matter that I didn’t go to war. I trained to go to war,” Testman said. “For somebody to sit across from me and talk about their experience that they’ve never told anyone about, there’s a trust and respect in that room.”
“They trust you because you’ve been through it and you’ve come out the other side. There’s a trust,” Garstka explained.
Whether a veteran served in combat or not, Still Serving Veterans staff say they are there to make their lives better.
“They would say I have a lofty goal but I would like to change the veterans’ image or how they feel about the systems,” Testman said. “If we could have more people understand that you have to navigate the system in certain ways for it to work most effectively and efficiently, then maybe we can change some people who won’t come back to come back and give it a try again.”
The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce recently honored Still Serving Veterans as Nonprofit of the Year.