New Veterans Service Officer Has Heart for Helping Vets
Greg Pickard brings twenty years of active duty military experience to his new position as Wright County Veterans Service Officer (VSO). During his career in Air Force Intelligence, Greg did research, analysis, and planning for air missions, among other duties. He often worked with Army, Navy, Marines, and Special Operations to make sure he didn’t disrupt initiatives on the ground. He retired in 2004.
He is eager to work with veterans again. After serving alongside Viet Nam veterans in the 1980s, Greg said he understands the difficulties they encountered receiving treatment and benefits. “That’s what drew me to this job; helping that group of individuals.”
Greg’s biggest challenge is contacting veterans to let them know that the Wright County Veterans Service Office is here. He said, contrary to popular perception, Veterans Service Officers do not work for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). “I’m a County employee, and the veteran’s advocate to the VA,” Greg said.
VA codes and regulations are complex, and can be hard to navigate. “VSOs are trained to understand them and find information that applies to the veteran’s specific situation,” Greg explained. “We help them with the right wording, and quoting the correct section, paragraph, and page in their claims.”
Some veterans give up trying to receive benefits if they submitted claims on their own and were denied. “My job is to help them get their benefits, whatever they are entitled to, whether it’s Federal, State, or local, and help them understand them,” Greg explained. “The rules are constantly changing.”
Greg talks with each veteran who comes to the office at the Wright County Government Center at 10 Second St. NW in Buffalo. Even more important, he listens. Besides any service-connected physical and mental health issues, there may be other issues the veteran doesn’t realize or remember. Greg asks questions to gather details that may help the veteran. “Were you ever hurt? Did you break a bone or go to the hospital? What did you do off duty? It’s not just the eight to sixteen hours you were working, when you were on active duty, it’s the 24-hour period you were on service. It’s the same for the Guard and the Reserve. If you get hurt during that period of service, it can be considered a service-connected injury.”
Not every veteran is eligible for Federal benefits. That’s when the VSO’s expertise comes into play. “What do I have from the State? What does Health and Human Services offer? That’s my job. It’s what I can do for the veteran, the total person. I get them whatever help they need,” Greg said.
Depending on whether a veteran’s disability is considered “service-connected,” there may be benefits for the spouse and children, or the surviving spouse, in the case of a veteran’s death.
Federal education benefits are available through the Post-911 Bill and the GI Bill. The State of Minnesota offers the Veteran Education Assistance program.
Greg plans to update the County VSO web page, and reach out to organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. On March 8, the St. Cloud VA Health Care System is hosting a town hall at the Buffalo American Legion Post #270, 304 10th Ave. South, Buffalo, from 5 to 6 P.M.
Greg urges veterans to see their VSO regularly. Although Veterans Services Officers are focused on serving their counties, veterans may choose a different VSO office, if one is closer.
He credits his staff, Debbie Ernst and Colleen Majkrzak, for their hard work and support. “We are a team. It’s not just about the Veterans Service Officer. It’s about the Veterans Service Office.”