By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Jerry Story retired one time, but it only lasted one weekend.
Story retired from the Washington County School System on a Friday in May of 2015 following 43 years in the education field, and he started work as the Veteran Service Officer serving Washington County the following Monday. But Story wouldn’t have it any other way.
Story, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam Era, has found his calling in helping connect his fellow veterans with the medical care they are entitled to. His tireless work over the past five years earned Story the honor of being named the Veteran Service Officer of the Year for Tennessee’s East Region, which encompasses 34 counties on this end of the state.
“When I entered military service, we were promised two things – our education was paid for and we had healthcare for the rest of our lives,” Story said after receiving the award in Jonesborough last Thursday. “Well, that’s not true now. It’s income-based as far as healthcare.
“I wanted to get involved because I didn’t get healthcare until I got service-connected myself. I wanted to help veterans make sure they at least got healthcare, if not service-connected disability.”
VSOs are trained and accredited to provide assistance to veterans, their dependents, and survivors. In addition to making sure veterans who are eligible have access to healthcare and disability benefits, he can assist in getting lost medals replaced; tracking down military records; housing and transportation; and ultimately burial and survivor benefits.
Story has a particularly demanding post in Washington County given the high percentage of veterans that call the county home. But Story also goes above and beyond by doing everything in his power to help every veteran who walks through the door of his office regardless of which county he or she lives in.
“There are just under 11,000 veterans just in Washington County,” Story said. “One person handling it all is a challenge. We allow other veterans to come in if there is not a service officer that services their county, or they’re just having problems. I don’t turn them away. If they want to come talk to me, I’ll talk to them. The bottom line is to make sure that veteran gets what he or she is eligible for.”
One new service Story is able to offer veterans is to facilitate virtual hearings with a Veterans Law Judge of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. By the end of the year, video conferencing capabilities will be available in Story’s office.
“Previously the veteran had to travel to Nashville or our VA hospital campus in Johnson City for hearings, which were conducted virtually from that location,” Story explained. “Now we eliminate the need to travel. They can come to Jonesborough, and I can be with them if they need me.”