By Aimee Lewis, Strain Daily,
Published in the San Mateo Daily Journal, Nov. 11, 2016
More than 150 community members attended San Mateo County’s inaugural Veteran of the Year Luncheon Thursday, an event that not only honored the more than 33,000 veterans in the county, but also highlighted the hard work put forth by a few individuals dedicated to making life easier for all veterans.
A Color Guard paraded the colors to commence the event with a fervent Pledge of Allegiance. Seated below warplanes of yesteryear that suspend from the ceiling of the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, the midday event brought together veterans from the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War and post 9/11. There were Blue Star family members and one Gold Star family member who joined representatives from law enforcement, politics and county services to honor three individuals and one military support program.
It was a proud but humbled audience that listened to video vignettes of each honoree. The Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City was presented with the Enterprise of the Year award for its program Reveille, which honors all military service people and their families.
Named after the military bugle call to report to duty, Reveille aims to dutifully serve the veteran population with their needs as they have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country, said Barbara Breen with Peninsula Covenant Church. Reveille sponsors family feasts for veterans at the Palo Alto VA Polytrauma Center, fosters community reintegration programs and sends care packages to active service members, among other things.
Two received the first honor of Veteran of the Year, for their service not only while in the military but also in supporting military service members long after their tours were complete. San Mateo County Judge John Grandsaert, a former U.S. Army Reserve officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps, was honored Thursday for the compassion he shows on the bench through his Veteran Treatment Program, which addresses the special needs of veterans facing prosecution and couples mentors with veterans with needs. Grandsaert’s son Patrick accepted the award on his father’s behalf.
Tim Healy, an East Palo Alto resident, was also named Veteran of the Year for his outreach efforts to veterans. Healy said his life spiraled out of control after his service. He was an addict with a criminal history before a fellow veteran helped him discover hope.
“I bumped my head against the wall countless times,” Healy said. “I remember not having hope until someone from the VA came and visited me in the Fresno County Jail. His visit opened my eyes,” he said.
Nowadays, Healy can be found in any pocket of California with a goal of connecting homeless veterans with services.
“I feel like if I can reach just one person and help them, I have done my job,” Healy said, adding he hopes he can help more.
He travels from homeless encampment to soup kitchens and detox facilities with the hope of connecting veterans with treatment and services, he said.
Sister Denise Healy, who attended the luncheon, said the way her brother Tim turned his life around has been an inspiration.
“When you watch someone painfully go down a path and then straighten up and end up here … we are all so very proud of how focused and hard he works,” she said. “He has earned this honor.”
Local journalist Carolyn Livengood was awarded Patriot of the Year for her continued coverage on behalf of veterans. Livengood has dedicated much of her time to the Wreaths Across America program and volunteered her time for the past 25 years with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 15 at Oyster Point, where she retired as a commander in 2006.
The well-attended event will be an annual one, said Effie Milionis Verducci with the San Mateo County Human Services Agency.
Expanding veteran services
Veteran services in the county have come a long way since 2014. While the Veterans Services Office was established in 1946, it was revamped two years ago when the county conducted a needs assessment to determine what veterans in San Mateo County really needed. Funded by Measure A tax revenue, the assessment provided insight that included the number of veterans living in the county and its demographic.
For instance, the majority of veterans living in the county were between the ages of 55 and 65 years old. The second highest age range was 18 to 24 years old, which gave the county a sense of for what to plan, Verducci said.
Born from that assessment was a Veterans Summit that brought together 107 veterans, lawmakers and social service workers who learned more about how to truly help veterans.
“Veterans have a lot of pride and respect for other service members,” said Verducci. “Many times veterans don’t access benefits because they want to leave them for the next person who might need them.”
Following that summit, the San Mateo County Veterans Commission was formed, a commission to advise the county Board of Supervisors on matters that affect the county’s veterans.
Goals of the commission include education about benefits and services available to veterans as well as identifying and addressing issues that affect them. The commission also helps develop policies to increase access to affordable housing and benefits they might not be aware of such as college tuition write-offs.
Today, the Veterans Commission and the Veterans Service Office offer a number of services that are relevant to county veterans. For more information on services for county veterans, contact the San Mateo County Veteran Service Office at (650) 802-7501 or visit http://hsa.smcgov.org/veterans.
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