In 2005, a young Marine returns home from Ramadi, Iraq to a pregnant wife, uncertainty about future employment lingers in his mind, and the frustration of coming home to what seems to be a complacent America is shown on his face. Numb to most feelings of excitement the young Marine meets a gentleman who extends his hand with a sincere look on his face and a very simple “Thank you” was exchanged. Who would have thought that, because of that handshake, my life was soon going to change again.
The exchange between myself (the young Marine) and Deputy Commissioner Michael Pugliese, of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, began a friendship and a mentorship. I worked for his Department for a short two years learning VA law (38 CFR), and working on Veterans disability claims at the Saint Paul Regional Office. I then shifted gears from working with claims files to wanting to work face to face with the Veterans. I applied and accepted a position with the Redwood County Veterans Service Office.
As a CVSO (County Veterans Service Officer), I learned quickly that VA compensation and Pension programs are only a fraction of what the Veterans’ needs truly are. Veterans are living on the streets, or couch surfing–Veterans that due to extenuating circumstances are becoming at risk of losing their home, or can’t pay the fuel bill to keep the heat running in the middle of a Minnesota harsh winter. These are only some of the challenges we face on a daily basis in the CVSO world.
In order for us to adapt and overcome, a philosophy ingrained in me after serving in the Marine Corps, we CVSO’s utilize all available tools available to us to ensure these Veterans’ needs are being addressed properly and to eliminate the problem if at all possible. We use multiple non-profit agencies, State Benefits, VA comp and pension, we use VA Medical Centers to provide treatment options for any condition that the Veterans may have.
Being a CVSO doesn’t mean we are trying to exploit every dollar available. Sometimes, like in my case, a friend–someone to talk to–is what is needed. And by-golly we will make that happen too.
I write this today because there are so many Veterans in need, that don’t have any idea that we CVSO’s are even out here. With the climate of local Government and budget restrictions, outreach is becoming harder and harder to do. I am hoping that this will be able to reach Veterans, their dependents, and widows so that way they will look into their County and see if, indeed, they do have a CVSO. A quick reference to see if you do is www.nacvso.org. We offer knowledgeable advice, and we are in your home County.
Thank you to the VA for continuing to better programs to serve Americas Heroes. Moreover, thank you to the Veterans that make our Nation the Home of the Brave.
Martin Caraway is a Redwood County Veterans Service Officer in Minnesota, and member of the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers. He served in the Marine Corps from 1999-2005, during which time he deployed twice to Iraq.