Reinforcements arrive for Carroll County's coordinator for veterans

Jeff Collins, left, talks about his first year helping veterans in Carroll County in his role as veterans service program coordinator and the timely arrival of Jim Hillman, right, like Collins a veteran, who was hired to fill another part-time position with the service program.
Jeff Collins, left, talks about his first year helping veterans in Carroll County in his role as veterans service program coordinator and the timely arrival of Jim Hillman, right, like Collins a veteran, who was hired to fill another part-time position with the service program. (Photo by Phil Grout)

When a bag of rubber bands arrived on Jeff Collins' desk, he wasn't quite sure what to make of it. There was no explanation, no reason why he needed them.

Carroll County's veterans service program coordinator soon learned that the Department of Veterans Affairs wanted all its documents rolled and held together with a rubber band — no more staples or paper clips.


It is one example of the many unexpected complications found in the Veterans Affairs office as Collins works to help veterans with the confusing amounts of paperwork required to file various claims.

"When you join the service, you sign a contract," Collins said. "Your side: You do what you are told, when you're told and how you're told. Their side: They train you, feed you, house you, give you exciting travel and take care of your health, mentally and physically.


"Unfortunately, they don't make it easy."

Collins took his part-time position a year ago.

"There are over 14,000 veterans in Carroll County," Collins said. "The board of commissioners saw the need within the county.

"I can file for anything they want. Our duty is to help veterans file for what they feel they deserve."


The assignment, however, was "too much for 25 hours a week," he admitted.

That's why it was a welcome change when Jim Hillman joined Collins in October as another part-time veterans services program coordinator.

Like Collins, Hillman will have six weeks of training then pass a test.

"I'm very happy with the way it worked out with Jim Hillman," Collins said. "He is another wonderful, retired veteran and will have a very positive input on helping veterans here."

Hillman said that from day one, he knew he had made the right decision to take the position. Recently retired from the Army, Hillman was pondering full retirement when he found the notice about the position.

"It seemed to be the perfect job, an opportunity to help veterans," said Hillman, a Westminster resident, as is Collins. "It was clear to me I made the right decision. It was clearly the right thing to be doing."

His first few days before the training began were spent shadowing Collins and learning the position.

"It is very clear to me that there is a critical need for someone to help these vets," Hillman said. "I'm happy I have the opportunity to do it."

Sometimes, it is the veterans themselves that fight the institution, Collins said.

Many World War II veterans say that they "don't need any handouts," while Vietnam veterans do not want to talk about it or admit any problems, he noted.

Regardless of when or where they served, Collins helps, as will Hillman, the county's veterans learn about benefits available to them.

"There are a lot of elderly veterans here in Carroll County dealing with a lot of things," said Collins, himself a disabled veteran who served in Vietnam in Army Aviation."The idea is for us to be able to provide the VA [Veterans Affairs] administration what is necessary to process a claim correctly and quickly. There is very specific language they want to see on forms."

Some vets may qualify for compensation for problems that are directly or indirectly from their service. Widows and spouses also have options available. Collins also monitors claims as they go through the system.

Filling out a form may be only the first step, Collins said, as more financial information is often needed as well as doctor forms.

"It's rarely the case when the veterans or family are in my office for only one visit," Collins said.

Collins also arranges rides on the county's van for trips to VA hospitals in Frederick, Martinsburg, West Va., and Baltimore.

"We get calls all the time for veterans to take the shuttle," Collins said.

Veterans should be happy to be in Carroll County, Collins said, where there is a significant amount of resources available to them.

"We should be very proud of this county and what it does for veterans," Collins said.

The United States is the only country that offers a Veterans Affairs office, he said.

"The VA is a huge institution," Collins said. "We take care of our veterans. At least we make the attempt."

Veterans Day events

The History Club at Liberty High School, 5855 Bartholow Road, Sykesville, will host a Veterans Day Breakfast and Celebration on Nov. 11 at 8 a.m.

All veterans and active duty military invited. To RSVP, call 410-751-3560

North Carroll High School, 1400 Panther Drive, Hampstead will host a breakfast program in honor of veterans on Nov. 11 at 8 a.m. RSVP to 410-751-3450.

New Windsor Middle School, 1000 Green Valley Road, New Windsor, will host a Veterans Day Celebration on Nov. 11 at 9 a.m.; 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Veterans may attend one or all of the celebrations. Light refreshments available. RSVP 410-751-3355.

A veterans' dinner and drama production of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" will be presented for veterans and their spouses on Nov. 15, at 5 p.m. at Manchester Valley High School, 3300 Maple Grove Road, Manchester. RSVP to 410-386-1673.

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