RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - The third annual Veterans University, hosted by Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz, was hosted at Agua Caliente in Rancho Mirage Saturday. Veterans, servicemembers and their families gathered to learn more about veteran benefits and services.
"As a community we can all be better advocates for our vets," said Ruiz during a presentation at the event.
More than a dozen local organizations came together to showcase benefits and services available to veterans.
"Without events like this, it's almost impossible [to receive benefits]. There's a lot of benefits out there, but unless you know where to find it, you're in trouble. That's why I come to these things," said James Clairy, a local veteran.
Some veterans who earned medals while in combat were also recognized, like Gary Kidd, who recieved his Purple Heart years after his service.
"I got a bullet in my head right here. I was hit here with a hand grenade, it causes my shoulder to hurt a lot. And I got shot on my foot," Kidd said.
Kidd explained it was hard to seek help at first.
"You know taking that first step, when you got post traumatic stress, and not trying to bring it up but I know they help a lot with benefits. It's just hard to go to these things, but I'm glad i did," Kidd said.
Ruiz also took the opportunity to talk about the dangers of burn pits after local veteran Jennifer Kepner passed in October 2017.
"Her oncologist linked Jennifer's exposure to burn pits as the only identifiable and plausible cause of her cancer," Ruiz said.
Kepner's husband vowed to continue her legacy and raise awareness in hopes that other families don't experience the same loss.
"There is help out there and hopefully we can have the VA step up and start giving these benefits to other families and most importantly we need to stop the use of these burn pits. They are still being used today and someone needs to be held accountable. There are other ways to get rid of this waste but they're too lazy or too cheap to use," Ben Kepner said.
"We don't want to wait for an act of Congress or for Congress to get their acts together. We're going to start working right here, right now for our veterans to get a better life," Ruiz said.