Lending a hand: Vet services officer says her father’s memory inspires her work

Published 7:00 am Thursday, November 12, 2015

Local veterans can seek medical assistance in the community from the Pearl River County Veterans Service Department in Millard.

Cindy Smith is the county’s veterans service officer. She spends her days helping local veterans find out what health benefits they’re eligible for.

Smith said she sees an estimated 400 veterans from Pearl River County and surrounding areas each month.

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“I assist them with any claims relating to the Veterans Affairs regional office, the VA medical center and direct and advise them on other benefits,” Smith said.

Currently, there are two main programs veterans can apply for: compensation or non-service pension. Veterans who were injured during active duty could qualify for compensation, while those low-income wartime veterans who have a disability could be eligible for the non-service pension, Smith said.

When veterans stop by Smith’s office, which is inside the DHS Millard facility, she asks them to bring their DD214, a document issued upon a military service member’s retirement, separation, or discharge from active-duty military. She said as long as veterans provide the documents necessary, she will fill out the required forms and send them to the VA. Smith said it’s up to the VA whether or not the veteran is approved for medical services.

“I consider myself a full service officer. I don’t hand veterans forms. I have a system in my computer where I load their information, social security and military history,” Smith said.

If veterans aren’t able to visit her office, Smith said she will speak with them over the phone. She also said family members can bring the necessary documents to her office if the veteran can’t for whatever reason.

“Say the veteran had a stroke and isn’t mobile, the family can bring their discharge papers and other documents and have the veteran sign the documents at home,” Smith said.

Most veterans in the county visit the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi to receive healthcare services.

Smith said there are many veterans in need of those services in Pearl River County.

According to a 2014 summary of expenditures for Mississippi, there are 5,244 registered veterans in Pearl River County.

Smith has served as the county’s veterans officer for the past 14 years. She said her mission has always been “to honor my Pearl River County residents through the best service and assistance that I can give them. If there’s a benefit out there that they can qualify for, I want to make sure I know about it and share it with them.”

Smith’s passion for helping veterans comes from her father’s service in the Korean War. She said her father wasn’t aware of the benefits available to him following his service.

“He was one of those that didn’t get the help they deserved,” Smith said.

In a way, she sees her father in many of the veterans she assists.

“When the veterans or their widows are sitting in front of me, my father is the one who gives me the compassion to help those veterans or widows get the benefits that my parents couldn’t,” Smith said.

Her office is supported via county funds.

The DHS facility is located at 167 Savannah Millard Road in Millard. Smith’s office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

While she does accept walk-ins, she encourages people to call her office at 601-403-2558 to set up an appointment.