Since the installation of the new Department Director in 2018, the Veterans Services vision for Randolph County has begun to take a new direction. Under the direction of County Commissioners and Administration, Veterans Services has hired two new officers to begin June 16 to meet community needs.
Some of these needs include open 24-hour communication with their consumers, rapid response to the needs of veterans and their dependents, and future homeless outreach initiatives through community collaborations.
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According to director Chad Gurley, the department aimed to include new staff members who are veterans themselves. Gurley believes the new members have been proactive in responding to the community by promoting the services they offer. As a result, the office is seeing a 15% increase in new clientele.
Listening to responses from the veteran community, Gurley said the office is looking for people who look, sound and breathe them.
Kenneth Harvel, 40, was born in High Point and joined the military immediately after graduating from Southwestern Randolph High School in 2000. He served more than 20 years in the Continental U.S. Army with two tours in Afghanistan and three tours in Iraq.
Harvel’s work with Veterans Services involves helping Randolph County veterans apply for benefits, understand what resources are available, and navigate veterans assistance systems.
Lisa Wright, 33, joined the US Air Force right out of high school. She served on active duty for more than seven years, with a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011. She later transferred to the Air Force Reserve after active duty and served in the Reserve for more six years old.
After serving 14 years, she needed to stay involved and applied to be a Veterans Services Officer.
Gurley believes Harvel has a “soldiers taking care of soldiers” mentality and has proven his commitment to the mission of “serving with heart” in the department. Harvel also earned the respect of veterans who met him.
The director is also thrilled to have Wright, who exhibits a high level of compassion and attention to detail. She is also trained in military sexual trauma response and moral recognition therapy, which Gurley says is needed in the department.
Here’s how new personnel’s military experience brought them to the department.
Q: Did you have influences in your childhood to join the army?
Harvel: As a child, I admired my father. It was between him and the JROTC program at Southwestern Randolph High School that my desire to serve my country was born. My transition from the military was pretty easy. I have a great marriage and a very supportive and understanding family.
Wright: In high school, I was part of the color guard for two years. I was also on the volleyball team for two years. I realized there was something for me in the military after I joined the Color Party.
Q: What support was available after you completed your service?
Harvel: There are programs that every service member attends at their last duty station to help. Some people will get more out of it than others, but it’s designed to easily bring them back into the “civilian world”.
Q: Did you encounter any difficulties returning from the army?
Wright: I was lucky not to have experienced any real difficulties when I came back from the army, but I know that many do. However, I started a Guilford Technical Community College and got my associates in business administration while working full time. I am currently working on my Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Human Resources.
Q: What are common questions or concerns from veterans?
Harvel: We are all veterans or married to a military member, so we know what kind of journey the people who walk through our doors have been on. So far, most of the concerns I’ve seen from veterans coming into the office have been around medical issues and the need to make sure they’re taken care of.
Q: Why did you want to be part of the Veterans Affairs offices?
Harvel: I didn’t know this county had a veterans service office until I googled it. These guys made it super easy for me to get my veterans aid benefits, and I wanted to pay it forward.
Wright: I wanted to be part of a team that made a difference in the community, and as a veteran I thought the office would be a great place to do that.
While these two retain their positions as staff members, the office has also promoted a staff member to veteran military officer.
On July 15, Elizabeth Wood will begin her promotion with guardianship. Wood has been in the department for two years. As the wife of a career army soldier, she displayed exceptional leadership qualities. Wood will serve as second-in-command to the department director.
Besides adding new employees, the department plans to implement other changes within the office. Here are some of the new developments:
- A public computer for automated problem solving with Electronic Veterans Benefits, VA.gov, direct deposit and virtual appeal hearings. Other developments in the office include:
- The team will also hold town hall meetings on veterans affairs updates and case law beginning in August 2021.
- The office will launch a social services work-study program in partnership with Randolph Community College to give local student leaders a chance to “serve with heart.” The date will come later.
Veterans Services began in 1985 and has evolved over the past 25 years. As director of the department, Gurley has assembled a team of people dedicated to helping veterans and hopes to carry the message to the community.
Petruce Jean-Charles is a government watchdog journalist. They are interested in what is happening in the community and are open to advice on people, businesses and issues. Contact Petruce at [email protected] and follow @PetruceKetsia on Twitter.