Even after her second knee surgery following six years as a missile specialist in the U.S. Air Force, Maggie Baker didn’t think she deserved the same benefits as some of the men she’d served with.
“I didn’t serve during war time. I thought I didn’t have any reason (to apply), so why should I?” Baker said. “A lot of female veterans think they don’t have any reason to apply (for benefits) or don’t deserve it.”
Underserved veterans who aren’t getting the benefits they earned is one reason Kerr County commissioners hired Baker earlier this month to serve as the county’s veterans service officer.
The position, which is mandated in large counties by state law but not required in smaller counties, such as Kerr, is a full-time job helping veterans connect with and apply for benefits. The office also works with the spouses of deceased veterans who may not know how to go about collecting pensions or other benefits.
Baker, who’s son has spent 12 years in the Army and been deployed five times, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said she has spent years organizing fundraisers for veterans and events for families.
She also is certified to work with veterans with PTSD and with programs to help families understand how to cope with veterans returning form combat.
Baker started working as the Kerr County veterans service officer last week, when she began training with the veterans service officer from Gillespie County. Baker still plans to spend about one day a week working with her counterpart in Fredericksburg while she continues training to become a fully accredited veterans service officer.
Under the Texas Veterans Commission, it takes three years to fully certify a veterans service officer. With that full accreditation, the officer is able to access medical records through the Department of Veterans Affairs and submit applications on behalf of veterans through that system.
Vietnam veteran Alan Hill is a volunteer veterans service officer through the South Texas Veterans Health Care System. Hill, who is fully accredited, helps veterans in a 15-county area and sees about 20 veterans a week.
Hill said that’s why having a Kerr County veterans service officer, who will focus on the local needs, is so important in a community with about 7,000 veterans.
“I can’t get out to go to the nursing homes. I can’t get out to Mountain Home to see the veterans in their homes,” Hill said.
Outreach is part of the plan for the Kerr County veterans service officer. The office also will be a place where veterans can go to seek help with obtaining veterans benefits or getting connected with other services that are offered to veterans.
Baker said she’s already met with veterans looking to enroll for VA medical benefits, the surviving spouse of a veteran looking for information about pensions and veterans who need help paying bills or with food.
Veterans seeking service through the office can call Baker at 792-2203 to make an appointment.