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Rusty Mardis of Tristate Veterans Community Alliance builds coalition to help NKY veterans

By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune reporter

Northern Kentucky veterans have had a hard time finding resources within Northern Kentucky; rather vets have been going to Cincinnati, Lexington, or not getting help at all.

Rusty Mardis

Retired Air Force Officer Mustang Rusty Mardis volunteers at the American Legion, helping veterans connect to needed resources. He also worked at, the now virtual entity of, Tristate Veterans Community Alliance (TVCA) in Cincinnati. Along the way, he discovered a lack of resources for veterans in Northern Kentucky.

This led Rusty to create what has evolved into the Northern Kentucky Military-Veteran Coalition (NKMVC). He saw a need and made it his mission to help his fellow veterans and their families get the help they need and deserve.

To start the Coalition, Rusty began to identify agencies wanting to work with vets.

“They are a Coalition partner because they want to be and have proven they are trustworthy,” shares Rusty. Today the Coalition has grown to 63 members, including the DAV, North Key Community Care, United Way 211, USO, and Welcome House, to name a few.

The idea of the Coalition is simple, “Through connections and networking, [NKMVC] is connecting [veterans] to the right organization and the right place.” Rusty wants to make sure vets get connected to the right person and not shuffled around.

A partial list of agencies can be found on the TVCA website. Also, you can request an appointment through the TVCA. Specify you are in Northern Kentucky and they will connect you to Rusty or any other of the NKY agencies.

Another way to find help is to contact Rusty Mardis directly at rustymardis@gmail.com. Rusty offers in all sincerity, “Any military member, veteran, or family member that needs connection or support, especially in NKY, I can help them get that.”

Talking to Rusty is easy. You will find a genuine, fun-loving guy who is straight forward. His passion for helping Northern Kentucky Veterans exudes from him and is highly contagious.

Rusty will talk through your situation and needs. He develops an action plan to be able to accomplish what needs to get done. “I told you I was an Air Force guy, a checklist guy,” Rusty is very organized and likes checklists. He will make you a personalized checklist for your situation. Of course with his connections, he will get you to a Coalition partner to be taken care of.

Rusty and the Coalition have helped with many kinds of situations. One instance, a Veterans’ transient child brought home bedbugs. He was able to get a sponsor to pay for a pest control company to get rid of the infestation.

Getting help from Rusty is simple. He says, “In today’s world 90% of it is done virtually, either through emails or phone calls, but I have no problem scheduling a time to meet.” He once met a WWII veteran at the McDonald’s in Erlanger, because that is where he went for breakfast every day, to help him file for VA medical benefits.

Rusty met with Vietnam Veteran Jim Kraft (thank you for your service) in Florence. Jim was drafted into Vietnam and served in the 5th Artillery. He talked about his experiences and applying for VA benefits.

“I made it through without a scratch, another reason why I really never tried to apply. I figure it’s more for the guys who got hurt and wounded or really got roughed up,” explains Jim.

But Jim has hearing loss in his left ear and tinnitus in both from being in the artillery. Hearing is not covered under his medical benefits. Rusty urged Jim to apply for VA benefits.

“It’s an earned benefit. People will say, ‘I don’t want to take the tax money away,’ well that money has already been put off to the side…and you did pay for it with your service,” says Rusty. He then quickly points Jim to the agency to file the claim correctly. Terminology is very important in filing claims.

The Coalition serves veterans in a multitude of other ways.

“One of the reasons why I’m very passionate about NKY is that I live here, I grew up here and I saw first-hand the lack of resources. We’re trying to get better in the state. They see NKY as an offshoot of Ohio, We’re trying to change that mindset,” Rusty explains.

Rusty has lobbied state officials to get veterans access to services in NKY. Because of proximity to Cincinnati, the Kentucky Department of Veteran Affairs (KDVA) never worried about NKY. The Coalition was able to convince them otherwise. Now, at the Independence City Building, NKY has its first KDVA representative, Wendi Maxwell (wendi.maxwell@ky.gov), who is the busiest representative in the state.

Coalition members meet every third month, on the third Wednesday at 1 pm at the Kentucky National Guard Burlington Readiness Center. The next meeting is July 17. Rusty expresses that, “We’re always looking for more partners. If you’re a profit or non-profit agency, as long as you do what you say and you support military veterans and families.” At the meetings, members share about their agencies and network with each other and veterans.

To learn more about events sponsored by the Coalition, go to their Facebook page.

“It’s all about service and taking care of our brethren and sisters of arms.  I don’t believe in enabling, but working with them to accomplish their goals as a coach and mentor,” says Rusty. 

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