Dr. RANDY MACKIN
You might think the most rewarding aspect of a Veterans Service Officer’ job is connecting former servicemen and -women with the benefits they have earned—and that’s certainly a major duty.
But for Dan Riley, who was appointed Perry County’s new VSO a year ago on August 22, 2022, the real reward is in meeting local veterans and “listening to their military experiences,” he told the Buffalo River Review.
Perhaps he enjoys hearing veteran stories so much because he has a few of his own. Mr. Dan served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1969 to 1973 at the beginning of his military service, as Aviation Structure Mechanic, Barbers Point, Hawaii and Port Angeles Washington. He served in the Tennessee Army National Guard, 1975, Knoxville, in the Medical Detachment, then in the U.S. Air Force, 1977 to 1988, Nurse Corps, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, Mountain Home, Idaho, and Clark Air Base, Philippines. And finally, he was in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, 1992 to 1999, Nurse Anesthetist, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
After retirement, Riley gained valuable experience as VSO in Robertson County, Tennessee, from 2012 to 2017 and again in 2019, before moving to Perry County where he assumed the role after former VSO Kenny Belew relocated.
“When the position became vacant, because of my previous experience, I applied,” Mr. Dan said, because he knew he would be able to help.
Last August, members from the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter 1123, American Legion Post 176, and Perry County Veterans Association attended the Commission meeting, recommended him for the job, and he was approved unanimously.
“When I first applied in Robertson County, the ad stated ‘working with veterans.’ I had no idea what I would be doing, but I found out it would be helping veterans and their families file claims and assist and provide information about the VA,” he said.
The most difficult part of the job, since day one, has been making local veterans aware that his office offers assistance of all kinds—right here in Perry County.
To that end—and marking his first year as the local VSO—Mr. Dan organized today’s Veterans Town Hall from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., at Azbill Community Center. He encourages all local veterans and their families to attend and meet representatives from Veterans Hospital and Benefits Administration who will discuss VA programs such as the PACT Act and how it affects veterans.
Personnel from various VA departments will be available to answer questions.
And Mr. Dan encourages local veterans to get in touch and stay in touch to learn all the services his office provides on a regular basis: filing claims for compensation and pensions, obtaining discharge papers (DD 214) and military service records, locating health care providers, finding phone numbers to call for VA-related questions, keeping veterans informed on the new and changing VA policies, and helping surviving spouses apply for burial benefits.
“Most veterans are unaware that if you are receiving compensation fora disability that increases in severity, you may be able to get additional compensation,” Mr. Dan has discovered.
And what many veterans and the public may not realize is that being a VSO is demanding: you must not only be approved by the County Mayor and Commission, VSOs attend a one-week certification course, receive monthly and quarterly training of one to three hours, attend annual training for a week, and undergo a yearly evaluation from the Tennessee Department of Veteran Services.
“We constantly get updates from the Tennessee Veterans Services for current or changed information to better assist our veterans. The VA requires a background check and mandatory online courses,” Mr. Dan said.
Retiring to Perry County is also a return home for VSO Riley. His father, Willie Riley, was reared on Possum Creek, Flatwoods, and his paternal grandparents, Elvis and Izora Grinder Riley, and his mother, Helen Epley Riley, lived on Sinking Creek.
In fact, Mr. Dan and his bride of forty-three years, Terri, lived on part of the Robert and Estalee Cotton Epley (his maternal grandparents) “Century Farm on Sinking Creek. Even though she’s from DC and Maryland, Terri“ claims southern status,” he said. Two sons, a daughter-in-law, a 25-year-old grandson, and seven-year-old granddaughter round out the immediate family.
“Other local names in my background are Warren, Ledbetter and Pevahouse,” Mr. Riley said.
While meeting veterans and sharing stories may be rewarding, VSO Riley said, “It’s very satisfying when I have assisted a veteran or family member and they are awarded benefits they earned.”
VSO Riley is ready and willing to help you with any veteran concerns. Call him at 931-589-2786 or email email@example.com.
PHOTO: At last week’s Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter 1123 meeting, August 10, President Dale Long introduced Caroline Cova, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), the Nashville VA’s Community Engagement Partnership Coordinator. Cova spoke on several issues related to veterans in the community and encouraged veterans and their families to attend today’s Perry County Veterans Town Hall, August 23, 2023, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., at Azbill Community Center. After the presentation, members and their families enjoyed a delicious meal and fellowship. If you are a Vietnam or Vietnam-era veteran, you are invited to join the VVA. Next month’s meeting is Thursday, September 14, 2023, 5:00 p.m., at the Veterans Park Building. Pictured: Dale Long, Caroline Cova, and Dan Riley.