VSO helps Guard troops returning home
WORTHINGTON -- National Guard troops from across southwest Minnesota will be coming home within the next week or so, and before they arrive, they're getting a little extra help preparing to reintegrate with their families and communities.
While Nobles County Veterans Service Officer Bill "Brock" Brockberg was among Minnesota VSOs to volunteer time to assist the veterans, his eight-day assignment at Camp Shelby, Miss., was a bit too early to see any local veterans returning home from overseas deployments.
Brockberg was stationed at Camp Shelby from April 13-21, helping primarily Minnesota National Guard soldiers with their post-mobilization paperwork.
"The U.S. Armed Forces have been improving on, especially in the last 20 years, reintegration efforts," Brockberg said.
Even since Brockberg returned home from a tour of duty in Kosovo seven years ago, the services provided for veterans post-mobilization have changed dramatically.
"The increasing services included mental health counselors and veterans service officers, along with veterans employment representatives and veterans education representatives," he said.
Also represented were people from the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which ensures troops coming home from active duty can return to the job they had pre-deployment.
One thing Brockberg learned from soldiers demobilizing through Camp Shelby was that many of them, particularly in the age range of 20 to 25, would rather not return to the job they had before they left.
Brockberg said about one-third of those who have a good job waiting for them expressed a desire not to return to those jobs.
"(They said,) I want to find something better or use my education benefits," he said. "This deployment qualified almost all of these Guard troops to fall under the Post-911 GI Bill education benefit. It pays these troops more money to go back to school than their Guard or Reserve chapter would pay."
Much of Brockberg's time at Camp Shelby was spent interviewing returning Guard soldiers, informing them of their changes in VA benefits, and asking if they were injured or suffered any stress while deployed. He took notes during each interview and will forward those on to the VSO office in the soldier's home county.
"They will be contacted by their county VSO within a couple of weeks after they return home," Brockberg said. "Then they can start making their claims for disability benefits and medical service."
Other VSOs will provide the same service to returning soldiers from the Luverne-Pipestone and Jackson-Fairmont National Guard units.
"I expect to be real busy in a couple of weeks," Brockberg said, adding returning soldiers are "welcome to call to inquire about benefits."
This was Brockberg's first time volunteering as a VSO to help with reintegration efforts, and he said it was a good experience.
"By having the extra people down there, we got a lot more soldiers through in a shorter amount of time. They're going to come home better informed, better counseled and have their needs taken care of better than even five years ago," Brockberg said. "The thing I probably was most impressed with was the teamwork and dedication from the education, employment, employment rights people and ... fellow VSOs to provide the best briefings possible to best prepare the troops for coming back home. I was very happy and very proud to be a part of the process."
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.