BY DAVID FISHER
WEAKLEY COUNTY (July 28) — Weakley County Veterans Service Officer Ricky Cobb and Administrative Assistant Randi Storye recently discussed the services and new benefits their office provides to area veterans.
Local veterans, who need assistance in obtaining military benefits, can depend on the knowledgeable and dedicated staff at the Weakley County Veterans Affairs Office, located inside the courthouse in downtown Dresden.
Storye explained her office works “with” – not “for” the Veterans Affairs Benefits Administration. “We work for the county,” she said.
Storye described the local V.A. office as a “gateway” for veterans to obtain the services they need.
“We help veterans and dependents with information and benefits any way we can,” Storye said. “This includes pensions, compensation, education, medical care, home loans, discharges (DD-214 or WD-AGO), interpreting letters from the V.A, filing claims, answering questions, filling out forms, and providing them with the phone numbers of the officials they need to talk to.”
According to Cobb and Storye, some of the services most requested by veterans include obtaining compensation for injuries received during military service, information regarding pensions, and assisting veterans enrolling in the health care system.
Cobb says the Weakley County Veterans Affairs Office helped more than 2,000 veterans receive benefits during the past year. Some of these veterans are new and some visit the office regularly as they move through the process of obtaining benefits.
“We’d like to get the word out, if someone needs help, come see us,” Cobb said. “There are a lot of veterans that may be entitled to benefits. They need to come and talk to us. We’d like for them to call in and get an appointment. This will give us ample time to get the information we need to help them.”
Storye said veterans are not limited to going to the Veterans Affairs Office in the counties where they live. They can go to any Veterans Affairs Office in the state. “We don’t turn any veteran away. We don’t care where they’re from – out-of-county or out-of-state, or just passing through.”
One of the many local veterans who has been helped by the Weakley County V.A. Office is Vietnam veteran Johnny Sams, who served as an Army Aviation Helicopter crew chief with Special Forces. He entered military service in November 1966 and served until 1969. His service included a year-long tour of duty in Vietnam as a member of the 17th Assault Helicopter Company, 101st Airborne Division, out of Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. His unit was located in the demilitarized zone on the 17th parallel, dividing North and South Vietnam. In addition to being a crew chief, Sams served as a door gunner and mechanic. He was also a platoon leader and squad leader.
The 72-year-old veteran says, “I’m a big advocate of the military. I think everybody ought to serve in the military.
“I’m 100-percent disabled, and the V.A. takes care of me great.”
Sams says he has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and heart trouble, and the demeanor of those working at the local Veterans Affairs Office makes it easier for him to get the services he needs.
“Randi and physician assistant A.B. Marlar got me into the V.A. system,” Sams said.
“The people at the Weakley County Veterans Affairs Office are amazing,” Sams said. “I can’t say enough good things about them.” He described the Dresden office as head-and-shoulders above any of the other Veterans Affairs offices he has dealt with over the years.
“The State of Tennessee makes it really nice for us veterans,” Sams said. He noted the V.A. provides him full medical services.
Sams says, after leaving the military, he could have gotten a job anywhere that involved working on helicopters. Instead, he opted to work at Goodyear in Union City, where he retired after 32 years at age 55. He then worked at South Fulton High School nine-and-a-half years in maintenance.
Sams is a member of Rolling Thunder, which is a patriotic motorcycle organization providing escorts for the funerals of veterans. He serves as the liaison for the Humboldt Veterans Home through Rolling Thunder.
He resides in Sidonia with his wife, Sherry. The couple has two children, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Cobb and Storye state several new programs are now available for U.S. veterans.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs under Secretary of Benefits Paul Lawrence describes several new benefit initiatives targeting new veterans as follows:
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans program benefits military personnel exposed to chemical weapons.
The Veterans Affairs Benefits Administration is also promoting its new Solid Start Program, reaching out to new veterans about accessing services and benefits earned while serving in the military.
“On January 18, the president signed an executive order that directed the Department of Defense, Department of Labor and Department of Veterans Affairs to get together and figure out how to make the military-to-civilian transition better for our veterans,” Lawrence said. “He set in motion a joint group to study different possibilities about what to do and come up with an action plan. The action plan was delivered about a year later, and one of the recommendations was what essentially became, Veteran Facilitate Reconnectivity of our Veterans to the V.A., so they realize the benefits they’ve earned and they are connected. Veterans lead the world’s greatest team – the U.S. military – and become civilians and in many ways become disconnected.”
Make the Connection, a new campaign launched by the Department of Veterans Affairs, is creating ways for veterans and their family members to connect with the experiences of other veterans — and ultimately to connect with information and resources to help them confront the challenges of transitioning from service, face health issues or navigate the complexities of daily life as a civilian. MakeTheConnection.net is an online resource designed to connect veterans, their family members and friends, and other supporters with information, resources, and solutions to issues affecting their lives. For more information concerning this program, visit MakeTheConnection.net.
Locally, veterans can contact the Weakley County Veterans Service Office by phone 731-364-5727, send messages to facebook.com/wctnva/ or via the website, weakleycountytn.gov/
The local Veterans Affairs office usually responds to veterans’ inquiries within 24 hours.
BY DAVID FISHER