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Southwest Metro veteran services aim to meet veterans needs

County veteran services offices provide a wide variety of assistance and benefits. Whether it is disability compensation, pension, dental and optical assistance or even door-to-door transportation for medical appointments.

When veterans contact the office looking for a service it doesn’t provide, staff members work to connect them with other community organizations, nonprofits or other groups, said Scott County Veterans Service Director Jerry Brua.

“If we’re not able to help them and we know somebody that potentially might be able to, we certainly refer them,” Brua said.

The veterans service office is here to assist veterans, Brua said. While it is uncommon, veterans occasionally aren’t aware of the benefits and services that are available to them. When a veterans provides the office with a DD214, the document issued upon a service member’s retirement, separation or discharge from active duty, staff members can go from there and see what benefits they are entitled to.

UNIQUE

A misconception that Brua has noticed is that people think that “a veteran is a veteran.” Everyone’s situation is unique, Brua said. Even when people serve at the same time, it doesn’t mean they had the same experience or tour of duty, he added.

“Everybody’s unique just because your buddy is receiving benefits, you may not be entitled to those benefits, or vice versa. Just because your buddy was denied, doesn’t mean that you’re not eligible,” Brua said.

Joshua Simer of Chaska echoed Brua’s point. Simer is a colonel in the Minnesota Army National Guard and works full-time for a fiber optics manufacturer. Although veterans are a distinct group who tends to build connection with each other, they are not all the same, he said.

“We’re not a monolith,” Simer said.

Simer started his military service in ROTC at Harvard University in 1993 and graduated in 1997. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant of infantry and served seven years on active duty, which included deployment to the Middle East and two and a half years in South Korea.

In 2004, Simer transitioned from active duty to the Minnesota National Guard and has served ever since. That included two more deployments to the Middle East and command of a tank and mechanized infantry battalion. His current assignment is as garrison commander at Camp Ripley, Minnesota.

Simer occasionally goes to the Carver County Veteran Services Office when he needs certain documents, verification of veteran status or advice about another organization to contact for assistance. He has always been pleased with the service and the veteran service officer is active, friendly and engaged, he said.

Simer has also utilized several other veteran benefits, such as assistance with home loans, help with job searches and assistance with transferring his GI Bill benefits to his children.

With so many different organizations offering resources to veterans, whether they be governmental, a nonprofit or community based, it can be baffling to figure out where to go to get assistance for a specific need, Simer said. That’s where the Carver County Veteran Services Office comes in to help, he added.

That overwhelming feeling is a real thing, said Carver County Veteran Services Officer Dan Tengwall. Another obstacle the office sees is that some veterans don’t think they deserve the benefits.

Tengwall emphasized that a great way for veterans to help not only themselves, but also others, is to go through the process of accessing benefits. We want people in the community to become more familiar with the office and carry out our message, he said. The best way for a veteran to help someone is to understand the process themselves and become a great resource, he added.

“Veterans have a common value of helping each other … We are trained to look left and look right and help our battle buddies or our shipmates or our fellow Marines or airmen,” Tengwall said. “When we take the uniform off, we don’t lose that want to help others.”

There is a common bond of understanding, selfless service and wanting to help that we share, he added.

BEGINNING THE PROCESS

The Carver County Veteran Services Office offers many similar services that the Scott County office does. The office encourages veterans to begin the process soon after they are discharged. It’s more difficult to have conversations about injuries or health conditions when they are 50 or 60 years old, Tengwall said.

“Maybe they were a pilot or a mechanic for aircraft and they had some hearing loss, maybe they were in the Navy and they … had some kind of musculoskeletal injury,” Tengwall said. “We want to capture that information. The best time to do that is when they discharge.”

Not only does the office have the ability to refer veterans to other organizations, it also partners with many groups. Engagement with local groups is a high priority for our office, Tengwall said. Just a few of these organizations include local VFW American Legion posts, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon and the Veterans Council.

People sometimes assume veteran services offices have a magical list of everyone who’s served, Tengwall said, adding they only get that information when veterans give it to them. It’s important for veterans to connect with the office so that when something is needed, we can react quicker and more effectively, he said.

Mental health is an important matter for the veteran community as well as the general public. Tengwall emphasized that addressing mental health is a strength, not a weakness. It’s doing the work and taking care of yourself, he said. He spoke for himself about how the VA health care system has helped his own mental health. Staff members listen and try to help veterans sort things out, whether they have immediate needs or long-term care.


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