In 2005, a young Marine returns home from Ramadi, Iraq to a pregnant wife, uncertainty about future employment lingers in his mind, and the frustration of coming home to what seems to be a complacent America is shown on his face.  Numb to most feelings of excitement the young Marine meets a gentleman who extends his hand with a sincere look on his face and a very simple “Thank you” was exchanged.  Who would have thought that, because of that handshake, my life was soon going to change again.

The exchange between myself (the young Marine) and Deputy Commissioner Michael Pugliese, of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, began a friendship and a mentorship.  I worked for his Department for a short two years learning VA law (38 CFR), and working on Veterans disability claims at the Saint Paul Regional Office.  I then shifted gears from working with claims files to wanting to work face to face with the Veterans.  I applied and accepted a position with the Redwood County Veterans Service Office.

As a CVSO (County Veterans Service Officer), I learned quickly that VA compensation and Pension programs are only a fraction of what the Veterans’ needs truly are.  Veterans are living on the streets, or couch surfing–Veterans that due to extenuating circumstances are becoming at risk of losing their home, or can’t pay the fuel bill to keep the heat running in the middle of a Minnesota harsh winter.  These are only some of the challenges we face on a daily basis in the CVSO world.

In order for us to adapt and overcome, a philosophy ingrained in me after serving in the Marine Corps, we CVSO’s utilize all available tools available to us to ensure these Veterans’ needs are being addressed properly and to eliminate the problem if at all possible.  We use multiple non-profit agencies, State Benefits, VA comp and pension, we use VA Medical Centers to provide treatment options for any condition that the Veterans may have.

Being a CVSO doesn’t mean we are trying to exploit every dollar available. Sometimes, like in my case, a friend–someone to talk to–is what is needed.  And by-golly we will make that happen too.

I write this today because there are so many Veterans in need, that don’t have any idea that we CVSO’s are even out here.  With the climate of local Government and budget restrictions, outreach is becoming harder and harder to do.  I am hoping that this will be able to reach Veterans, their dependents, and widows so that way they will look into their County and see if, indeed, they do have a CVSO.  A quick reference to see if you do is  We offer knowledgeable advice, and we are in your home County.

Thank you to the VA for continuing to better programs to serve Americas Heroes. Moreover, thank you to the Veterans that make our Nation the Home of the Brave.

Martin Caraway is a Redwood County Veterans Service Officer in Minnesota, and member of the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers.  He served in the Marine Corps from 1999-2005, during which time he deployed twice to Iraq.

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Published on Jan. 2, 2011

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  1. Martin Caraway January 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    While I cannot comment directly on your case as I have no file or information on you, communication is the key. If you have severe limitations make sure that your CVSO is fully aware of the extent of them so that he can fully assist you. Also keep in mind that your CVSO is limited in what he can do to affect the time it takes the VA to make a decision, and may be working with thousands of veterans. Once your claim and the supporting documents are submitted some patience is required. However, if you do make reference to a financial hardship the claims process should be expedited. If you are still without a home and transportation I would also suggest sitting down with your CVSO and go over these issues again, there may be local benefits available that can assist you with housing and transportation. I wish you the best of luck.

  2. Woman Veteran January 3, 2011 at 7:03 am

    When the VA won’t talk to the veteran and only to the VSO… when the VSO doesn’t seem to be actively working on your case file and can report no progress… then what? I asked my VSO if I needed to get a lawyer… he said it probably wouldn’t do any good. He also has no advice to me for how to get my case moving and get some action on it. The hold-up is, apparently, with the woman at the VA where my file is sitting on her desk… and sitting… and sitting.

    The backlog in Detroit VARO is, apparently, 18+ months… that’s how long I’ve been waiting for something to happen. The VA wrongly withheld 12 months of my disability compensation because they thought I had gotten divorced (faulty info they got from the Social Security Administration), and the last dependent form I had filled out was ten years prior to that, so they withheld a year’s worth of disability compensation because they thought I owed it.

    Meanwhile, as I fought to correct the problem with the VA, I lost my marriage, my house, my car, my phone… I wonder how many VA employees would be able to keep their possessions if they had to work for a year without a pay check? I’d certainly like to see them try it (at this point).

    Note to the VA and to VSO’s around the country: sending forms to a visually-disabled veteran to fill out is both insulting and nonproductive, as is offering a phone number to those without a phone or a means to get to one (since many places no longer have public telephones).

    • Jalica January 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm

      Woman to Woman Vet:

      I suffered the same losses in the state of Alabama. My ordeal was laced with the comrades of the klan (locals) of the community who care nothing about what veterans endure, especially Women!

      I have 30 years under my belt serving in a less fortunate capacity. Somehow standing up to men who dishonor truth, is like stepping on the “old southern roots” that enslave. I lost a great deal but it is material, and my name only means something to God.

      Fear not, for many women that have faced the discharge of lameness, have also come to grips with the truth of who and what we served. I have been around to synthesize the infadelity of politics. How it plays into the armed forces, and who is truly the boss. We have many who empower small groups of infadels, only to keep control of their powerful means to funnel money from the federal pot and back into states and vice versa.

      There is greater still. How would you feel if the politics of the “high dogs” of the elite of klans that compete, killed your husband and then, your son, but cover it up to look as if accidents happen, or that it was personal! The truth is many of us who walk straight and keep standing against the forces of wrong, will be black boxed by their nepitism and more. Why does this happen! Our country once stood for Honor and Truth, now you must pay for truth and loose your honor! What is Honor, its something more than wearing the badge of courage,its about taking on the “cold war” right here at home and not giving in to suicide because of Men who trample truth to cover their debts.

      I may say some harsh words, because the truth is learning that “nothing is what it seems” stated by someone who is now deceased. Who said I was military trained and thought like a soldier who faced the heartbreak and shame! She was right, how much more should a woman stand to fight!

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