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Carlos Fernandez of local nonprofit C&P Garage helps client Sharnice Woodard file a claim last week at his office, located inside VFW Post 10281

Fernandez advocates for fellow veterans

Since retiring from the U.S. Army in 2000, Carlos Fernandez has made it a mission to help fellow veterans receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

This pursuit was inspired by Fernandez’s own frustration navigating the paperwork and application processes required to receive his veteran benefits. For Fernandez, these benefits were a matter of life and death.

When he retired from the Army while serving at Fort Knox, Fernandez was dealing with a Hepatitis C diagnosis. By 2002, he said his doctor feared he would undergo liver failure as a result of the diagnosis.

However, Fernandez was able to alleviate his chronic infection in 2006. Throughout his time battling the disease, he did extensive research into veteran medical benefits and realized he had gradually gained an extensive knowledge.

“Sometimes you learn more than you think,” he said.

With this knowledge, Fernandez began helping fellow veterans by reviewing their medical records out of his garage at no cost.

“The whole time I was studying, reading and asking people I knew,” he said.

Originally from Lima, Peru, Fernandez and his family moved to Port Chester, New York when he was eight years old. He joined the Army in 1980, two years after graduating from high school.

Throughout his time serving in the Army, Fernandez said he served at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Benning, Georgia and in Germany. He retired while serving as a chief instructor for the Scout Leader’s Course on Fort Knox.

In 2016, Fernandez began working with Disabled American Veterans Chapter 156 in Radcliff and served with the organization until 2020. Throughout his time with the local DAV chapter, Fernandez served as a service officer and as treasurer.

Earlier this year, Fernandez founded local nonprofit C&P Garage, which provides a variety of no-cost services for military veterans. Working out of VFW Post 10281 in Vine Grove, Fernandez works with a team of volunteers and serves clients from around the region, along with many out-of-state clients and even some international clients.

C&P Garage offers administrative assistance for VA claims, along with support for family survivor benefits. Fernandez said the nonprofit helps process approximately 470 claims a month.

Fernandez said though he typically begins serving in-person clients at Post 10281 around noon each weekday, he typically begins taking phone calls around 7 a.m. He said sometimes he doesn’t leave the VFW post until late into the evening.

“If there’s a veteran waiting, I don’t like to leave,” he said.

Fernandez said C&P Garage typically works with around 20 to 25 clients per day. He said his role is to advocate for veterans and help them understand what benefits they can receive and how to apply for them.

“I look at it like this: We served the biggest corporation in the world and we should know what we’re entitled to,” he said.

Fernandez said C&P Garage’s services are not limited to recently-retired veterans. He said on average, the nonprofit serves five or six Vietnam veterans a week and Fernandez has even helped some World War II veterans.

In addition, C&P Garage also works with Vine Grove-based construction business 12 Bravo to provide ADA-compliant bathroom improvements for disabled veterans. Fernandez said through their work with 12 Bravo, home improvement projects always are covered by VA adaptive housing grants without any out-of-pocket expenses.

Margaret Freeman said she can personally attest to Fernandez’s commitment to helping veterans and their families. She said Fernandez has been working with her to receive family survivor benefits since the death of her husband, John, a Vietnam veteran, in 2018.

“He is a go-getter and without him, I would have stopped trying a long time ago,” Freeman said. “…Carlos knows so much and he’s such a caring person. He really works hard for people.”

Fernandez said he has stayed motivated to continue helping fellow veterans for the past 20 years because the need has never gone away.

“There’s nobody there to guide us,” he said. “What happens is a lot of people just give up and they miss out on so many benefits they are entitled to because they’re not aware.”

Andrew Critchelow can be reached at 270-505-1413 or acritchelow@thenewsenterprise.com.

Getting to know Carlos Fernandez

Family: His wife, Maria, two daughters and three grandchildren.

Hobbies: Taking his wife out to dinner, watching movies.

Pets: One dog.

Favorite television programs: UFC fighting.

Favorite music: Jazz.

Favorite food: Peruvian cuisine.

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Parrott has a heart for fellow veterans

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A chance encounter with veterans paperwork helped Patti Parrott figure out a passion to help fellow veterans.

A friend told her about the work Carlos Fernandez does with veterans at VFW Post 10281 in Vine Grove, helping them with benefit paperwork. She finally went to see him and there were more than 20 people waiting to see him and she didn’t get to see him until 8 p.m.

“I asked him if he needed help and I’ve been there ever since,” she said. A veteran herself, she’s the adjutant for VFW Post 10281. She served in the Army from 1986 to 1995 and Oct 2003 to Oct 2007.

This work, she said, is important because many veterans don’t know what they are entitled to.

“When I listened to Carlos talk to veterans and explain what they deserve, that got me hooked on helping as many veterans I could,” she said, adding they help around six Vietnam veterans a week. “It really hurts to see that they went through what they did in Vietnam and what they had to encounter when they came back to the states.”

Her work also includes helping spouses do paperwork when a loved one passes away. She said it’s confusing for spouses if they haven’t worked with the VA before.

“Veterans don’t understand how the VA works and we are here to help them maneuver the VA system,” she said. “A lot of Veterans get frustrated and just stop filing. We are here to let them know to not give up”

Along with those she works with at the VFW, she helped form a non-profit called C&P Garage, Veterans Helping Veterans to help veterans with benefit paperwork.

“Patti does not shy away from helping out in any area of the VFW,” said Belinda Gaither Schmitt with the VFW.

Tommie Eiland, VFW Post Commander, said she is a great help to veterans with their disability and benefit paperwork.

“She is very knowledgeable in veterans’ benefits,” he said.

And, he said, veterans greatly appreciate her help.

“It’s indescribable because most of the veterans, some who were in a long time ago, when they exit the military or retire, they had briefs but they really didn’t get a clear roadmap on what their entitlements are and how to obtain them,” he said. “This is why the services officers at the local areas provide such a great services to veterans and their families.”

He called Parrott an excellent veteran that continues to serve. She’s one of the youngest who volunteers at the Vine Grove post and he said she has a heart for supporting veterans.

“She doesn’t know what no is,” he said.

On top of the work she does with veterans, she’s also an advocate for her daughter, Dyeshia Parrott, who has been in a wheelchair since a car crash in 2010.

“My daughter is the strongest woman I know,” she said. “When she first was hurt, I would get really upset when we couldn’t find a parking space because she needs the extra space.”

She said people didn’t seem to understand, when it’s a rainy or snowy day, she has to use her hands to push her wheelchair along and her hands would get very dirty. It’s easier for her to go shorter distances.

“She would like to have some of the parking spaces changed to specifically wheelchair spaces,” she said. “Also, the signs that say van accessible should be changed because not all handicapped vehicles are vans.”

She continues to try to make people aware of the accessibility needs for those in wheelchairs.

For more information or assistance with veterans benefit paperwork, go to cnpgarage.org, call 270-877-6641 or email cnpgarage@gmail.com.

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1416 bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

Getting to know Patti Parrott

Family: Her three children are Marcell, 30; Darrius, 25, and Dyeshia, 22.

Hometown: Water Mill, New York.

Favorite food: Chinese.

Favorite movie: “The American President.”

Favorite book: Albert Einstein autobiography.

Pets: Two black cats named Phantom and Midnight.

Favorite TV show: “The Big Bang Theory.”

Favorite teams: New York Giants and Yankees

Favorite radio: NPR.

Hobbies: Crafting and crocheting.