The Veterans Services Office holds outreach events across San Mateo County to link veterans with the benefits they earned and services they need. A color guard (above) opens an event in East Palo Alto.
Francisco Oliva is an actor with plays and movies to his credit.
Lisa King left her job to travel and now seeks “fulfilling employment.”
Paul "Hank" Scherf is a certified financial planner with an MBA from Stanford.
The three seem to have little in common. What they do share is service in the U.S. military and a deep desire to help as members of the inaugural San Mateo County Veterans Commission.
The Board of Supervisors created the commission in 2015 to “address the needs of the over 33,000 veterans and their families living in San Mateo County.”
More than half of those veterans (54 percent) are ages 65 or older, and 95 percent are male. Yet women are the fastest growing group of veterans, representing 27 percent of veterans ages 18 to 54.
The Commission will work closely with the County’s Veterans Services Office and the Board of Supervisors. The goal is to explore what services veterans need, recommend ways to help veterans access the special benefits that come with serving in the military and support those veterans struggling with homelessness, substance abuse, stress disorders and other issues.
Oliva, Scherf and King each bring a unique perspective to their new role on the Veterans Commission.
A professional actor following a career in the tech industry, Francisco Oliva is the Commission's Chair. He served in the Air Force.
“If I didn’t think we could provide some real value, I wouldn’t be stepping up to do this.” – Francisco Oliva
Francisco Oliva enlisted in the Air Force in 1967, serving three years in the United States and a year in South Korea. He learned the value of teamwork and, after growing up in the largely segregated South, getting along with and appreciating people from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences.
After leaving the Air Force, he spent 35 years in the technology industry. He now devotes his time to acting, working with veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and pursuing activities such as tango dancing, cycling, martial arts and running.
“Primarily, I am at a juncture in my life where giving back to the community is an integral part of my life plan,” he said. “Working with some of the young men and women that have been physically and emotionally disabled, and watching their struggles, made it very clear to me that we are not doing enough to take care of our warriors.”
San Mateo County goal: No more homeless veterans
He wants to start by helping to unravel the benefit system so that veterans understand the opportunities and services available to them and, crucially, to help homeless veterans find stable housing.
Oliva hopes to set performance standards for the commission so they can measure whether they are making an impact. “If I didn’t think we could provide some real value, I wouldn’t be stepping up to do this,” he said.
Lisa King was surprised to discover that she had earned certain benefits during her career in the Army. She said many veterans believe they are only eligible if they saw combat, are disabled or have special needs.
“I had no idea I was eligible.” – Lisa King
Lisa King’s father served in the military, along with numerous other relatives, and her mother was a registered nurse. So it was no surprise that King enlisted in the Army “for money for college and to see the world.”
She did so over a 23-year career on active duty and in the reserves. She loved the “teamwork, the camaraderie, the personal development” that came with service. She fixed tanks and weapons systems and led troops in transportation, supply and other fields before retiring with the rank of Major.
After joining the Veterans Commission, she decided to try out the federal online benefit system, just to try it out. She was surprised to learn what she had earned. “I had no idea I was eligible,” she said.
“Military folks are a pretty prideful bunch and don’t ask for a lot. Many veterans think that because they are not homeless or they are not disabled, they are not qualified for benefits. But they are out there and they are there to give veterans a hand up in life.”
Women are the fastest-growing group of veterans, creating new challenges for a system largely designed to serve men
After leaving the military, King worked both as a mental health counselor and as an operations manager for a school district. She left her most recent job to travel in India and is now seeking "fulfilling employment."
King hopes to create opportunities for veterans to continue to serve their communities through volunteer work and mentoring opportunities. She knows they will face challenges. "But don't give up trying."
Paul "Hank" Scherf served in the Navy. He now mentors veterans and volunteers in numerous organizations.
“Making sure our veterans get a square deal.” – Hank Scherf
Paul "Hank" Scherf has a long list of accomplishments: U.S. Naval Academy graduate; Naval aviator, retired at the rank of Captain; MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He serves on the boards of numerous organizations, including leadership roles in the Boy Scouts of America (he is a proud Eagle Scout), the Hiller Aviation Museum and the Redwood City Child Development Program, a nonprofit child care program that serves working families.
Scherf wants to dig into the veterans benefit system to discover any obstacles “My main goals are providing leadership and making sure our veterans get a square deal.”
“Being a US Navy Veteran and Naval Academy graduate with 30 years of active and reserve service, veterans affairs are important to me,” he said. “I have a strong commitment and duty to giving back to the community and my country.”
Scherf currently works as a financial advisor and is active in numerous veterans organizations. Each year he hosts a networking dinner for veterans at his home where he shares his love for wine tasting. With his background in engineering and business, he wants to dig into the details of the veterans benefit system to discover opportunities to improve it. “We need to ensure our veterans are receiving the services they need.”
If you served, you earned.
If you are a veteran who served in any branch of the U.S. military, you have earned the right to special benefits and services.
Veterans services are provided free of charge by the San Mateo County Human Services Agency. Veterans Services Officers are trained to help veterans and dependents learn about benefits. Benefits and services may include:
- Disability compensation and pensions
- Education and training
- Health care
- Veterans ID cards
- Housing/home loans
- And more
How to access services:
400 Harbor Blvd., Bldg. B, Belmont, CA 94002
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed from noon to 1 p.m.