New Coryell County veterans services officer gets to work
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Recently appointed veterans service officer for Coryell County, Richard Smith, has lived in Copperas Cove for less than nine months, but has wasted no time in rolling up his sleeves and getting to work on behalf of local veterans needing help with their VA claims.
Smith was appointed by the Coryell County commissioners* in March 12 and has an office set up at 312 S. Main St. in Copperas Cove, where he keeps office hours during the week from Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Friday from 9 am. until noon.
Smith said he has “big shoes to fill” in the position formerly occupied by Tony Smith.
Prior to moving to Copperas Cove last fall, Smith was active in the VFW in Vacaville, California as well as the VFW in Beaver Creek, Ohio.
“I started with the VFW in 2000, after they buried my dad. It was then I thought I’d start giving back to the veterans’ organizations,” Smith said. “When we moved to Copperas Cove, I saw in the Fort Hood newspaper that the DAV was looking for volunteer drivers to drive the veterans back and forth to their appointment.”
Smith said he began as a volunteer driver in January and when wearing his DAV shirt, he met Tony Smith and the two struck up a conversation, when Tony told Richard he was the veterans service officer for Coryell County.
“I told him, ‘It sounds to me like you need an assistant,’ which eh said he was looking for, and I said, ‘Well, that is something I would like to do.’”
Smith found himself signed up for a one-day training workshop on March 5, then being sworn in on March 12 and appointed by Coryell County.
Smith said he and his wife aren’t new to the area, but had been stationed at Fort Hood from 1978-1980 and at that time, they lived in the newly constructed Comanche housing area., Then, while their youngest son was stationed at Fort Hood, they came to visit.
“We came down here (last fall) to be close to the grandbabies. Our youngest boy just retired from the Army two years ago.”
Smith himself served 22 years active duty, starting as a military police officer for eight years, followed by 14 years as a CID agent.
“The work was especially interesting at Fort Hood, where I broke in to CID in ’78,” Smith said. “When I retired from the Army, I was a welfare fraud investigator in California, for Solano County for 18 years.”
Presently, Smith said he is keeping busy working with the Texas Veterans Commission, with his ultimate goal of becoming an accredited service officer.
For veterans who need help filing their claims, Smith helps them determine what documentation and information to gather, and then he helps them fill out the paperwork, scan it, and he submits it to the national service officer for the DAV in Waco.
“I work closely with the national service officer to determine what documentation the veteran has to provide,” Smith said. “The VA will help, but you have to start helping us gather some of the documentation that you can. The VA will try, but ultimately it is the veteran’s responsibility to get the information. “The goal is to submit the claim one time, one shot.”
Otherwise, if a claim is kicked back, it can be frustrating for the veteran who has waited on it and who wants those benefits.
“Yes, I’m new, but the good thing is I use the resources of the group and I have no problem picking up the phone and saying, what do I do next to help this veteran,” Smith added.
He also said the Harker Heights Veterans Center is a “wealth of information.”
Since his appointment, Smith said he has been focused on getting out, visiting the Texas Veterans Center, and also visiting the local VFW, American Legion and other veteran organizations.
“I let them know, I’m not here to usurp their authority whatsoever, but if they need someone, I’m here.”
Smith said sometimes the “EZ” claim online isn’t so easy and explained why.
“You fill it out to the best of your ability and submit it, and it’s called fast tracking the claim. The problem is, which they told us in the training, is if you submit that claim and then go back and decide you forgot a piece of paper and add it to your claim, it is no longer a fast track claim and becomes a standard claim and goes to the bottom of the pile.”
Smith said that’s where someone like him can help, to guide a veteran through the process.
Smith can be reached at 254-577-2202. Veterans are asked to bring a copy of their DD214, any medical records for any claimed conditions, and any previous VA claim letters.