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Vietnam vet hired to be Carroll's first veterans services coordinator

Jeff Collins retired in 2009, happy to begin living in Westminster and raise sheep after a career in finance for telecommunications and biomedicine companies.

But at the urging of his wife, the Vietnam veteran chose to come out of retirement and apply for the position of Carroll County's first veterans services program coordinator.

Collins was hired and started in the new part-time position (25 hours a week) on Oct. 7. Carroll is the first county in Maryland to create such a position for veterans, according to Phil Munley, director of veterans services and benefits with the state Department Of Veterans Affairs.

"This is the only type of position I would come out of retirement for, because I really believe that it's needed," said Collins, 63.

"If you help any veteran, you're helping the county," he said.

In his new position, Collins helps Carroll's nearly 14,000 veterans file claims and receive their benefits from Veterans Affairs.

Currently in training with the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs in Baltimore, he hopes to begin meeting with county veterans in two to three weeks.

Collins said he sees himself as an advocate for veterans who find dealing with Veterans Affairs to be a "corn maze."

"So many veterans give up because it's just simply too much trouble," said Collins, whose brother served during World War II.

Collins said he expects to see 10 to 17 veterans a day once he is finished training.

He will have full access to the claims system so he can monitor claims as they are processed through the system.

Collins served three years in Army Aviation, including a one-year tour in Vietnam before he was honorably discharged in 1971.

After spending the last 40 years working with Veterans Affairs for his own benefits, he said he has seen both the good and the bad of the agency.

Collins added that if he is successful in processing veterans' claims and increasing veterans' compensation,  his position would essentially pay for itself because the money received by veterans would most likely be spent in the county.

"I see it as being a real success for Carroll County, in addition to being the right thing to do," he said.

Hampstead resident Mike Sater, assistant adjutant with the Maryland chapter of Disabled American Veterans and a Vietnam veteran, said the county's efforts to assist veterans is "absolutely fantastic."

"It makes you proud, no doubt about it," he said.

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners allocated $30,000 in its fiscal year 2014 budget to create the position.

It's not the only program the county started within the past year to aid its veterans population. Launched in December, the county operates a shuttle service to help veterans get to medical appointments in Baltimore, Frederick and Martinsburg. Ridership has been steadily growing since its inception and is now up to 62 registered riders who use the service as needed.

Board President Doug Howard said he is pleased with the program's progress and with the new veterans services position.

"The response has been very positive," he said. "It's the beginning of a long discussion on how we take care of our veterans."

Frank Valenti, director of the county Department of Social Services and a Vietnam veteran, said the next step for the county is to continue notifying veterans of the services available for them.

"We need to find out their needs, their family's needs and what we can do to help," he said.

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