DeKALB – Tammy Anderson hopes to have her job until the day she dies.
“When this job became available, I did everything in my power to get this job,” she said.
In January, the DeKalb County Board confirmed Anderson as the superintendent of the DeKalb County Veterans Assistance Commission. A disabled veteran herself, Anderson knows the trials and tribulations that veterans can experience when they return to civilian life.
“Once I did find out about (the job), I knew I didn’t want anyone else to go through the same (experience) that I did,” she said.
Anderson and her staff help veterans navigate hurdles in the federal government bureaucracy to receive services to which they are entitled, and provide direct assistance to local veterans who need it.
In March, Anderson reported to the county board that the commission helped 24 veterans with food, 21 with shelter and 18 with utilities in February. The commission also helped seven veterans collect monthly pay totaling $6,508 and retroactive pay totaling $47,096.
Anderson said if the commission cannot help a particular veteran with his or her problem, she will direct the veteran to an agency that can help.
“If you are a veteran and you need help with something, you can call here,” she said.
Anderson made time to discuss her career and the work that the commission does for DeKalb County veterans with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg last week.
MidWeek: How long have you been with the Veterans Assistance Commission?
Tammy Anderson: I originally started here in January 2009. I worked as veterans service officer for four years, and then I was honored to be promoted to superintendent in January of this year.
MW: Are you a veteran?
TA: Yes, we’re all veterans who work here. ...I am an Air Force veteran.
MW: What can you tell me about your service?
TA: I went in right out of high school and I was in for eight years. I was originally in Washington, D.C. at the headquarters of the Office of Special Investigations, and I was out there for a little over four years. From (19)88 to ‘91 I was a drill instructor and did some training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. ...Then I came up to Chanute (Air Force Base) in Rantoul and I was a military training instructor there.
MW: How did you end up working with the Veterans Assistance Commission?
TA: When I first got out of the service, I went three years without any insurance. I did not know about the VA (Veterans Administration) health care system at all. …I’m a disabled veteran also, from the Air Force. When I got out I filed my claim with another VSO (veterans support organization) years later and they did a poor job. From that day forward, I said I didn’t ever want another veteran to go through what I did. …When I did get the job, I told my mom before she passed away that I want to be the best service officer in the state of Illinois.
MW: How much of what you do is reaching out to veterans in the community, as opposed for waiting for them to come to you?
TA: We go to the Sycamore expo and we are members of the chambers of commerce. We go to events in the towns and counties and we’ll answer questions. We won’t discuss anything personal (there) but we carry cards with us. We try to get the information out as much as possible. The best form of advertisement we have had is word of mouth.
MW: How do you reach veterans who might be reluctant to ask for help?
TA: The biggest thing in dealing with the military and the VA is that everything’s always a time frame. With any soldier that comes back, if they have had any issues, especially if they have been in Iraq or Afghanistan, and especially Desert Storm, they should come in and talk to find out what they should be looking out for. ...They just came out with a Gulf War report where they have found some problems with respiratory (issues) because of all the fire pits and everything that was over there. They are also equating that with the current wartime veterans. There are a lot of medical problems that are showing up later in life we’re seeing a lot with the Vietnam veterans.
MW: What can you tell me about the services you provide?
TA: The services that we provide for living assistance, for instance, is provided by the county. The county pays for everything but we help the veterans deal with the federal issues. If we get a veteran approved for a pension or disability compensation, that is money that’s coming back into this county.
MW: Do you have programs to help veterans find employment?
TA: We don’t do that directly, but we do direct them. If there are companies that are looking to hire veterans, we ask them to send us fliers or any kind of information we can get. There are a lot of federal incentives to hiring veterans. …When IDES was here in DeKalb, they would always have their seminars and things here.
MW: Do you offer resources for veterans who need mental health care?
TA: The VA offers those, and we also do have a gentleman who comes up from the vet’s center in Aurora every Monday. He talks with veterans, and if it was a war zone veteran he can talk to some members of the families too. He does one-on-one sessions, and he’d like to do group sessions too. That is paid for by the VA, so it does not cost the veteran anything.
MW: Do you have plans for Memorial Day?
TA: We’re all affiliated with different veterans’ organizations in the county, so we go to a lot of the different American Legion and VFW programs. It’s just being out there and letting people know that we’re here. There are a lot of times when we go somewhere or we’re talking to somebody, and they’ll say “Well I have…” – they have a daughter, an uncle, a son, a dad, a mom who’s in the serviceá– “…and this is what’s happening. What can they do?” We give them the best advice or direction we can.
MW: Is there anything else you would like to add?
TA: My biggest thing that we tell the veterans is that you have your DD-214 (military discharge certification) – it has to be the original – take it to the county recorder’s office and get it recorded. …Whatever county you’re in, record it for a couple of reasons. One, if you lose it, we have to get in touch with St. Louis and then it will be a month maybe if you can get a copy of your DD-214. We can’t do anything without a DD-214. We’ve got to see it. The other thing, if you pass away, nine times out of 10 your family is going to want to have a military honors funeral. You can’t have that if you don’t have the DD-214. …If the recorder’s office has it, they can give it to the surviving spouse or the next of kin.