5 Questions: Connie Buchanan puts her heart to work for veterans

Sue Guinn Legg • Nov 10, 2019 at 4:35 PM

ERWIN — Connie Buchanan, the former manager and current go-to woman at the Tri-Cities Flea Market in Bluff City, always has her eye out for veterans in need. And she is known for her knack for helping those who are suffering without the veterans benefits they earned in service to their country.

Asked how she does it, Buchanan readily shared her best contact and the true secret to her success: a willingness to do whatever it takes to get an underserved veteran through the hoops.

What gave Buchanan her heart for veterans?

“I guess it’s because my dad was a veteran. And Jim (her husband) is also,” she said. But it was the first veteran Buchanan assisted who set on her path. “There was a man here at the flea market who was over 90 years old. He needed someone to stay with him and I found this program that helped pay for that,” she said. It took her several months but when a home health aide came to help her aging veteran friend avoid an impending move to a nursing home, Buchanan knew she was onto something and that she could do more.

How does she do it?

On her first venture into the world of veterans benefits, Buchanan found an in. She called the Veterans Affair Medical Center at Mountain Home and was put through to a state office on the VA campus known as the Tennessee Department of Veterans Services, an office she praises for never giving up and trying every door.

“I got pretty good with them,” she said. “I take them the information. Then I go pick up a packet at that office and get it to (the veteran). Sometimes they can’t fill it out by themselves so I will help them fill it out. Sometimes they can’t sign and it takes two or three people to get it signed. Then I take that back to the VA. Then we wait. Or, if there is a question, I go get the answer for them. Whatever it takes, I’m their go-for,” she said.

“The real difficult ones are those whose records are lost. A lot of Korean veterans are like that because there was a fire that burned a lot of their records. But I have learned there are ways those records can be rebuilt.”

How long has she been at it and how many veterans has she assisted?

“It’s been at least 10 years. I’ve been able to help a lot of veterans, probably 15. I meet a lot of them at the flea market and at church. And I just got a new one. A man came up to me Wednesday at church and said ‘You’ve helped everybody else, now I need you to help me.’ I’ve got to call call the VA now and go get his packet.”

What are the most touching cases you come across?

“Those that obviously have done without for many years and just now, in their older age, are getting benefits. A lot of them don’t even know they have benefits and a lot of people are living on less than $1,000 a month in Social Security. After they pay their lights, water, phone, groceries and gas, there’s nothing left.”

What is your best advice for someone attempting to help a veteran secure their benefits?

“There are so many different circumstances. They’ve been through so much and there is only so much you can do. But if you can, ask somebody to help you and keep asking until you find that person.”

Fun facts:

Favorite night out? Going out to eat.

Favorite dining spot? Cheddars.

Favorite day trip? Pigeon Forge outlet shopping.

Dogs or cats? Cats, two of them, including Fred, the Maine Coon. “One is mine and one is Jim’s. But mine counts as two; he’s 23 pounds.”

Place of origin? Raised in Unicoi and living Erwin, Buchanan has spent most of her life Unicoi County.