If nothing else, it is clear that Dan Tengwall’s absence will surely be felt by veterans and their families across Carver County. Those who worked with him during his time as the Carver County Veteran Services Officer said the only thing comparable to the size of his heart is the size of the shoes he leaves behind to be filled.

“He puts his heart and his soul into his job. We’ve never had a veteran services officer that has put so much time and effort into making it work for all the veterans in the county,” said Barb Van Eyll, former Chaska American Legion Auxiliary president.

After nearly a decade as the county’s go-to person for all things veteran services, Tengwall is moving to a new position with Veterans Affairs, leading the charge on veteran suicide prevention efforts in the Upper Midwest.

An army veteran himself, Tengwall began working in Hennepin County as an assistant veteran services officer in 2012. Two years later, he applied for his current position in Carver County and, after being hired, moved to Chaska with his family.

“Veteran services officer is a crazy, awesome, weird job. It’s like military background mixed with social work mixed with community engagement,” Tengwall said.

Tengwall recently received his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs. For him, the skills he learned in this program served as momentum to further help veterans.

In comparison to Tengwall’s current role, where he spends much of his time talking to veterans one-on-one, his new position will involve big-time stakeholder engagement with a concerted effort toward suicide prevention.

He will be the lead health system specialist in the suicide prevention program. His role will include outreach to veterans groups throughout the Upper Midwest and helping them develop and implement suicide prevention strategies. He said at its core, the position is similar to his current one, just on a bigger scale and with a sharper focus on suicide prevention.

Thankfully for Tengwall, his new position is based in Eagan and will not require his family to move from their Chaska home.

Contrary to what some might think, Tengwall said that suicide prevention is not just a matter of crisis work. You have to take a holistic approach to people’s mental and physical health, he said.

“If we’re focused only on the people who are suicidal and contemplating suicide, we’re not doing it right,” he said. “We have to roll it back earlier to say ‘How are we integrating you into our community? How are we welcoming you and making this a good spot for you?’”

This is something he practices in his current role, as well. He said his work is about asking veterans “What can we do for you?” rather than “What do you want us to do right now?”

Tengwall often has the answer before the question is even asked. He has a lot of information to share with veterans, and his desire to share that information doesn’t stop at his office door, Van Eyll said. And if he doesn’t know the answer, she continued, he’s not afraid to ask for help.

Tengwall said he feels a responsibility to share information with veterans so that they’re able to fully reap the benefits they’re entitled to. During his time in graduate school he conducted a research project to shed some light on why veterans don’t always actively seek out these benefits. His findings indicated that there are five primary reasons: an unfavorable perception of the veteran services office or its efficacy, inconvenience, a lack of information, apathy, or shame.

He said that he often encounters veterans that tell him, “Don’t help me, help someone else.” Tengwall pushes back on the idea that veteran resources and services are reserved for the few “who really need it.”

“The most powerful help you can provide is to go through the process yourself, to be a leader, to understand the ins and outs of programs so that you’re able to describe them and walk alongside somebody else going through it,” he said.

To see how these services can impact people’s lives is something that will stick with Tengwall. Unfortunately, he has also seen many people pass away over the past nine years. Tengwall said in those moments he wants to ensure the person is “leaving us with dignity, leaving us knowing that we are going to remember and honor them, and making sure their family is being taken care of.”

Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said that he’s worked with Tengwall on a number of occasions, notably helping veterans suffering from mental health issues during the pandemic. Nash said that recently Tengwall was instrumental in helping a family whose veteran family member was lost to a battle with PTSD.

“Dan has an absolute heart for veterans,” Nash said.

Tengwall has had a profound effect on his coworkers, as well. “We’re not only coworkers, but we’ve become friends and family too,” said Doug Krohn, a Carver County Veteran Services Transportation Driver. “He’s a real people person. He knows how to empower people.”

Echoing this sentiment, former coworker Sue Wherley said, “Dan came with fresh ideas and a love for veterans. He has added growth and talent and an amazing staff to that office.”

And the feeling is mutual. “The people here have been awesome to work with. I just need to remember how lucky I’ve been for the past decade to have been doing this work,” Tengwall said.

Jim Kelly, a former Marine and service officer for the Chanhassen Legion, summarized the collective feeling the veteran community feels toward Tengwall when he said, “I have nothing but good things to say about Dan.”

Tengwall said he will miss the work and his coworkers but is excited for the next chapter of his career and is looking forward to spending more time with his family. Tengwall’s support system has not gone unnoticed. Van Eyll recognized that Tengwall’s dedication to veterans inevitably cuts into his personal time. “I have to give his wife a lot of credit and thank her also,” she said.