Article Date: Friday, May 23, 2014
For the Veterans Services staff in the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance, “veterans helping veterans” is more than just a slogan — it’s a mission. More than 100,000 county residents have served in the American armed forces. Veterans Services staff are veterans advocating on behalf of fellow servicemen and servicewomen to ensure that all veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned.
“We have a lot of vets who try to navigate through the VA system themselves,” said Lester Heatley, County Veterans Services Officer. “The Veterans Administration has done a lot of work creating a self-service environment for our veterans. The downside to that is that veterans applying on their own don’t know all the rules and requirements of obtaining benefits, and our staff does. So even if you submit a claim on your own, it’s in your best interest to sit down with us and see if there are other benefits you may be leaving on the table.”
The list of benefits is long. They include pensions; compensation for disabled veterans and their families; health care; waivers for college fees and vehicle-registration fees; education and career counseling; home loans; property-tax exemptions; burial allowances; and insurance programs.
The County also assists veterans seeking employment through the Job Talk program and entrepreneurs through Business Resources for Veterans.
Benefits belong to any former serviceman or servicewoman in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard or National Guard with active duty. The honored status of “veteran” isn’t limited to those who served in a war zone or got injured in the line of duty.
Helping veterans get recognized for their service is one reason Sacramento County participates in a statewide program for issuing official identification cards. These cards provide veterans with a valid form of ID that can convey discounts and special considerations.
“The ID card has become a validation for veterans who feel they haven’t received recognition,” says Heatley, who served in the U.S. Army. “It says, ‘I’m a veteran, I served.’”
The first step to getting an ID card or benefits assistance is contacting Veterans Services at 916-874-6811. The main office is located at 2007 19th Street in Sacramento. The County also has posted a claims representative one day a week inside the County's North Service Center, 3331 Peacekeeper Way, McClellan, CA. “We’re bringing our services to the communities,” Heatley says, “and we’ve identified three, possibly four, locations for new outreach centers.”
Contacting Veterans Services shouldn’t be daunting or intimidating — after all, staff members have been in the exact same position.
“A lot of veterans have participated in some pretty traumatic events and have a hard time relating what has happened to them to people who weren’t there,” Heatley says. “It’s really important for veterans to understand that these staff members are people who have shared some of the same experiences. Our staff are veterans assisting other veterans.”
Check out our new Veterans Services Publication!