Brookings register | Benefits: Use them or lose them
BROOKINGS – “I’m checking all the boxes,” said Courtney VanZanten, fairly new to the job of Brookings County Veterans Duty Officer.
She arrived on board on July 26. She is also the American Legion Services Officer for the State of South Dakota.
Being a veteran is a prerequisite for both jobs. She is more than qualified for the VSO job here. The boxes she checked relate to Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) membership; American Legion (AL); and Disabled American Veterans (DAV). Add to those qualifications five years as a VSO in Madison, Lake County.
For your information, VanZanten, 38, is from Chester, where she graduated from high school in 2001. Next is South Dakota State University, where she graduated in 2005, after earning a degree in history and political science.
In addition, she was enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program and was appointed second lieutenant. She claims to be former Det 780.
Finally, while attending SDSU, she took four semesters in Arabic. She admits that she is not fluent. But she knew “enough to get by, enough to be conversational.” His language skills will prove particularly valuable in a future assignment.
VanZanten’s first posting as a newly created âbutter barâ second lieutenant was at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska as a Logistics Readiness Officer. She spent three years there before being posted to Iraq in 2007 for a 10 1/2 month “instead” tour with the army.
Serve with the “survivalists”
The army was running out of positions in some units, so the navy and air force sent personnel instead of soldiers to fill those army positions. VanZanten was assigned to an Iraqi base to train Iraqi soldiers who were fighting against ISIS.
âI was with the Iraqi special operations forces, where I was training an Iraqi logistics officer on how to do his job,â she explained. When the Iraqis went to the field, she went with them. âWhatever Iraqi special operations forces did, we were by their side. It was a truly unique mission. There were 150 American soldiers and 1,500 Iraqis and their families.
âIt was actually really cool. I just made a post about this with 9/11 on my Facebook page. We spend a lot of time with the children. It was actually one of my favorite things to do. I have to go out with the families. Cultural interaction with the kids was a big part of what we did there. We were expected.
She ordered children’s books from Amazon and read them to children in Arabic. She was able to interact a lot with the families: âIt was a really enriching experience in that regard. I absolutely loved it.
In short, she saw the Iraqi special forces with which she served, mostly Kurds, as “survivors”. Many had lived most of their lives with the nation on a war footing.
The less stigmatized “scarlet letter”
âWhen I cut ties, I just went out and came home,â VanZenten said of his departure from the Air Force in 2010. âI spent a few years staying at home with the kids, then I decided to return to work as a veterans service officer.
As a VSO, she sees her mission in simple terms: âLinking veterans to their benefits with the VA is my primary role. “
She is the go-to for questions about health benefits, disabilities, pensions, home loans and education benefits. One benefit she specifically cited was mental health.
âThe VA has made giant strides in terms of mental health,â VanZanten said. âIn fact, Sioux Falls VA currently has a new mental health building under construction on campus, which is slated to open in 2022. It’s going to be phenomenal – and rightly so. “
Going a little deeper into mental health, she focused on post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We brought five people back in a C-17, with the unit I was with.” And she goes to VA therapy in Sioux Falls.
âI’m glad the scarlet letter (PTSD) is less of a stigma,â she said. âI don’t think we’ve gotten to where he (PTSD) needs to be yet. I think there has been significant progress. I am a big supporter of therapy, âshe said. Laughing, she added, “I think anyone could use it.”
âI like to think I’m giving a really good Memorial Day speech,â she laughed again. She continued in a more serious and philosophical tone.
âLook at what veterans go through and what they are exposed to, through the exhibits of combat, whether it’s traumatic events or even moral injuries,â VanZanten explained. âYou are brought up with ‘you shall not kill’, and then you are given the direct order to do so. You are faced with this difficult moral wound to overcome. She has linked this aspect of ‘moral wound’ by being closer. of that geographic part of America.
âEspecially where we are,â she explained. âThe upper Midwest tends to be a fairly conservative and observant population, rural America. You see it a lot around here. People are struggling with this moral wound.
âThey don’t necessarily recognize it as such because it’s not a common term people throw away. And once, I think, they recognize that’s what they’re struggling with, it’s a lot easier to deal with.
Enter the VSO
VanZanten is pretty sure she was the first woman to hold the VSO job here at Brookings and was also the first to fill the Lake County position in Madison.
His message to Brookings County Veterans is simple.
âEnter the Office of Veterans Services. The best thing a veteran can do is walk into the VA and really document their service.
âThe VA is like any government system: if you don’t use it, you lose it. The more people use the VA system, the better it is funded.
VanZanten says veterans aren’t using their VA benefits enough. She noted that many veterans do not because they believe that if they do, they are reaping benefits for a veteran who needs it most, such as an amputee.
âI’ve heard many excuses, but the most common is that others need it more than me,â she explained. âThey think of people who are missing an arm.
“But, again, if you’re not using (the VA), you’re not providing the funding for the person whose arm is missing.”
Contact John Kubal at [emailÂ protected]