Where every day is Veterans Day

As a rule, all veterans’ benefits are not automatic and must be applied for. This process can be complicated, requiring great expertise, dedication and care. Many Veterans Service employees know exactly what their customers are going through because they are also veterans.

We asked several of the agency’s Veteran Field Service Officers (VFSOs), including David Foster in Cordele, Tonya Malpass in Glennville and William Tucker in Clarkesville, to share some of their most memorable experiences on the job.

David’s story
VFSO David Foster, who served as a Navy Hospital corpsman with the 3rd Marine Amphibious Brigade in Camp Books, Vietnam, said, “This job offers the satisfaction of knowing, at the end of every day, that I have made a positive difference in the lives of the people I serve.”

David once helped a Vietnam veteran named Rudy. “Rudy served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Orinsky in the Tonkin Gulf in 1968. Rudy developed diabetes and cancer 40 years after discharge from the Navy. According to the VA, Rudy did not qualify for service connected disabilities presumed to be caused by Agent Orange – an herbicide sprayed by the U.S. government over all of Vietnam – because Rudy never had ‘boots on the ground’ in Vietnam.

Using the internet, I was able to locate a fighter pilot from the USS Orinsky whose jet sustained severe damage on a mission over North Vietnam. The pilot landed in Da Nang and remembered that Rudy was flown in from the ship to repair his F-4 phantom. Today Rudy is being compensated by VA for his diabetes, heart disease and cancer, all of which are presumptive of herbicide exposure in Vietnam.”

Tonya’s story
Office Manager and Senior VFSO Tonya Malpass, who served in the Army for four years, also has a husband, daughter and son-in-law who are currently serving. Tonya said, “I feel that having been placed in various roles – veteran, spouse and parent – has given me a better understanding of what our veterans and their family members have gone through and continue to go through. I have immense respect for the veterans that I meet daily and strive to do the best job for them that I can. “

Tonya remembers a Korean War veteran who was seriously injured during the war but never received a Purple Heart for his injuries and had not applied for any benefits. Tonya shared, “I applied for his Purple Heart and applied for his benefits. The granting of benefits meant a great deal to him and me, but the thing that meant the most to me was being able to watch him get his Purple Heart pinned on his collar more than 50 years later. Knowing the sacrifice that he had made for his country, and seeing him finally get the tribute for that sacrifice, is something I will never forget.”

William’s story

Senior VFSO William Tucker served in the Navy for three years as an Aircraft Structural Mechanic and a Petty Officer 2nd Class. In Japan, he served temporary duty of different ships, from seagoing tugs to aircraft carriers, with shore duty in Okinawa and the Philippines.

Most of Williams’ clients are veterans with serious health problems related to their military service or who have very low income. He shared a story of a veteran’s widow whose benefits claim had been stuck in the appeals process for 12 years. “The widow had resigned herself that there was no benefit available. Her only income for those 12 years was a small social security monthly payment,” said William, who vowed to help her.

“Under a tight deadline, she was able to recover the needed medical records and we submitted them to the VA. Within a couple of months, she was surprised to receive a generous back payment and letter indicating she was eligible for a monthly check and health insurance for the rest of her life. This significant event greatly enhanced her life by giving her financial stability, which in turn allowed her to be better prepared for her healthcare.”

For William and his colleagues, “It is a privilege and honor to work with one of the smallest departments in our state government where all of the employees have the biggest hearts for the veterans and their families who have earned their benefits by their service and sacrifices to our country.”

Pictured, top photo: Willam Tucker (left) meets with a veteran. Bottom photo: Tonya Malpass (right) assists a veteran. Not pictured: David Foster.

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