When Victoria County Commissioner Danny Garcia’s son returned from action in Iraq, Garcia did not have much luck finding assistance for his combat-wounded son at the Victoria County Veterans Services Office.
That spurred Garcia to improve what was being done at the office and it is now viewed as one of the best in Texas.
“I realized pretty quickly we needed to do more for veterans,” Garcia said. “If my son had trouble getting help, that meant that hundreds or thousands more veterans were having trouble.”
Garcia’s son Daniel Garcia, 37, was a scout platoon captain in an Army air cavalry unit in Iraq when he was wounded by a rocket propelled grenade. That dislocated his shoulder, broke his hand and thumb, and injured his leg, Danny Garcia, the commissioner, said. He was told he would be evacuated from the country even though he did not want to be, Garcia said.
“Soldiers have some guilt when they are leaving a place where their men are,” Garcia said.
Garcia said that a father sending his son off to war brought mixed feelings.
“There was a sense of pride for what he was doing for us, mixed with fear,” Garcia said. “I will never know or understand that feeling of an 18- or 20- or 22-year-old flying to another country with a rifle in their hands to fight for our country. That’s why it became so important for me to try to make sure we do everything we can for veterans.”
Not all counties in Texas have veterans offices. County Judge Ben Zeller said Victoria’s office has served as a model to other counties in the state. Victoria County’s veterans office helps Victoria County residents who have served in the armed forces and their dependents. It provides services and information about veterans’ federal, state and local benefits.
“Veterans are very well appreciated here,” Garcia said. “They’re making veterans feel comfortable and seeing them in a timely manner.”
Garcia said he had been informed that Victoria was the lead county in Texas for veterans services. The Victoria County Veterans Services Office is at the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, 2805 N Navarro St., Room 501.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs is the federal department providing lifelong health care services to eligible veterans at 170 VA medical centers and outpatient clinics across the country. Nonhealth care benefits include disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation, education assistance, home loans and life insurance. The county office helps veterans file for compensation and pensions and assists with VA compensation claims, VA pension claims, requests for military records and registration for VA health care.
One of those veterans was Rene Reyes, 77, who joined the 101st Airborne Division and was sent to Vietnam in July 1965.
“I was 18 when I was in the first airplane I had been in,” Reyes said. “To tell you the truth, I was scared before I jumped, but I loved it.”
Reyes was injured when the helicopter he was in crashed, injuring his right leg. After he returned to America, he said he saw the country turn against veterans.
“It was not very good at all. The whole country was against the war and it got worse in 1968 during Tet,” Reyes said, referring to the Tet Offensive, which was launched on Jan. 30, 1968, and was one of the largest military campaigns of the war. Both the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong launched a series of surprise attacks against military and civilian command centers throughout South Vietnam.
“We won almost every battle in it and lost the war,” Reyes said. “Explain that to me.”
Reyes said the treatment he has received at the Victoria County Veterans Services Office has been exceptional.
“They are all very good,” Reyes said. “You’ll get no complaints from this guy.”
John Williams, who served in the US Army from 1984 to 1986, is the director of the Victoria County Veterans Services Office.
“Every veteran comes in with a very similar story but a very different story,” Williams said. “We’re there to get them the things they need.”
Victoria area Military Veteran Peer Network Peer Service Coordinator Oscar Pulido, who served in the Marine Corps from 1991 to 1995, works in the office with Williams. The purpose or the peer service program is to prevent suicide due to PTSD as well as pointing veterans to local resources based on the individual needs of the veteran and family.
“Here I feel like I have a purpose,” Pulido said. “It’s like a full circle back to serving again.”
There are many types of help available at the office, Pulido said, and veterans can either call or stop by. The number for the office is 361-582-5810.
Both men said part of the problem is that not enough veterans know that the office is in Victoria. The office typically sees about 200 veterans at the office each month. The Disabled American Veterans also works out of the office. The office used to see about 350 to 400 vets per month, but COVID-91 knocked that down, Williams said.
“We’re hoping to get that back up,” Williams said.
Williams said a health care representative and a claims advisor work out of the office and all the reception people are volunteers.
“We get a lot of veterans from other counties that don’t have veterans’ offices,” Williams said. “Victoria takes care of Victoria County and the surrounding counties.”
Another problem is that local veterans are not aware of what the office does, Williams said.
“We need to get the word out as to what the office does,” Williams said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Jim Halbrook, with the Texas Veterans Commission in Austin, said the problem of veterans not knowing what services were available was one statewide. Part of the problem, he said, is the lack of information for veterans transitioning out of their service branch to the civilian world.
“It’s a challenging transition for veterans,” Halbrook said. “Many of these services come at no direct cost to the veteran. Part of the challenge is getting the word out.”
Among the items the Texas Veterans Commission helps with is benefits for claims, health care, education benefits, employment benefits and financial assistance with utilities, rent or mortgages, home repair, transportation or food. The Texas Veterans Commission can help veterans, their dependents and spouses through the VA processes for disability compensation claims and health care. Texas Veterans Commission Claims Benefits Advisors can file disability compensation claims for veterans and their family members. Claims Benefit Advisors may serve as advocates for veterans to the VA for increases in compensation and VA appeals.
Both of the Texas Veterans Commission Claims and Health Care offices in Victoria are located in the Victoria County Veterans Services Office.
“We want to make sure that veterans are connected to their benefits,” Halbrook said.