Navigating civilian life is hard. This DeKalb County veterans aid office is here to help

DeKalb County Veterans Assistance Commission sees veterans helping veterans as they navigate civilian life

(From left) Will Sutton, veterans assistant service officer with the DeKalb County Veterans Assistance Commission; Tammy Anderson, superintendent of VAC; Justin Wolfe, veterans assistant service officer; and Scott Bennett, veterans assistant service officer, stand outside of their office Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Within the offices of DeKalb County government is a group run by veterans for veterans, helping make civilian life back on the home front a little easier.

Those who run the offices at the DeKalb County Veterans Assistance Commission said it’s a job they couldn’t do without passion.

Tammy Anderson, the commission’s superintendent and an eight-year U.S. Air Force veteran who served during the first Gulf War, said her office helps veterans receive benefits years after their service.

“There’s a lot of times we get people that come in, they’ve got their DD 214, their discharge paper, and they go, ‘What can I get?’ They have no idea [what benefits they’re eligible for]. And so we sit down and we talk with them. We educate them,” Anderson said.

Being able to come to a spot where we’re able to sit down and speak the same language, especially living here ... I didn’t feel like I was alone anymore. I felt like there is someone here that represents me in this community, and they’re going to go to bat for me.”

—  Justin Wolfe of Sycamore

The county-funded veterans assistance helps educate area military service men and women on a variety of benefits: disability compensations, pensions, health care, lost discharges and other needs.

The commission has been serving DeKalb County residents for more than a decade.

In 2006, DeKalb County voters passed a referendum to approve that county money be funneled to the commission. In 2009, the program moved into its current office inside Suite A of the DeKalb County Community Outreach Building, 2500 N. Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Scott Bennett, a 30-year veteran who served during operation Desert Storm and retired in 2019, works as a veterans service officer for the commission.

He credited Anderson for the organization’s growing reputation.

“From everything I’ve seen working in this office, it almost seems like a central hub,” Bennett said. “The reason I’m saying that is because [Anderson’s] reputation has spread to the point [where] we’re helping vets in other states – not only other counties in Illinois but other states – and I think that’s very rewarding.”

In addition to educating veterans on their benefits eligibility, the commission can help veterans prepare forms for the Department of Veterans Affairs and Veterans Healthcare Administration, as well as other items needed to register for benefits.

Staff also is on hand to answer questions.

Justin Wolfe of Sycamore, a 22-year National Guard veteran, recently visited the office looking for help in planning his retirement. He said he’s found the office to be a bit of a sanctuary for him and fellow veterans.

“[Retirement] can be difficult,” Wolfe said. “You have a lot of significant life events that happen all at once. And I was planning for my retirement.

“Being able to come to a spot where we’re able to sit down and speak the same language, especially living here ... I didn’t feel like I was alone anymore. I felt like there is someone here that represents me in this community, and they’re going to go to bat for me.”

Fellow veterans is who folks will find if they come seeking aid at the county’s commission office.

William Sutton, who works for the commission, served eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps and received a Purple Heart during active duty. He said he has so much passion for his work that he doesn’t consider it a job.

“You can have a veteran come in on their lowest of low, and it’s always – especially when dealing with the Vietnam era – ‘There’s somebody’s that’s worse than me, so I just never said anything,’ ” Sutton said. “And you remind them or you change their mindset to think of it as [workers’ compensation]. Just think of it as that.”

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