Sublette County Veterans Service Office serves more than 500 veterans
PINEDALE – More than 500 veterans who served in conflicts from World War II to the Global War on Terror make their home in Sublette County. Veterans are fortunate to live in a community with an active Veterans Service Office where they can find help navigating life as a civilian and the daunting bureaucracy of state and federal governments.
Billie Hamby, a veteran, has served as Sublette County’s veterans service officer for two years. Hamby enjoys working with other veterans and said the most rewarding aspect of her job is “helping veterans learn about all the benefits that are out there.”
Hamby’s 22 years of service in the Air Force and two deployments to Kuwait make her sympathetic to the challenges other veterans face.
“I am a veteran, my husband is a vet and my son is in the Air Force. I can help veterans and relate to them because I know first-hand what they are experiencing.”
Hamby describes herself as a “veteran’s advocate.” She assists veterans with a wide variety of services, from enrolling in the Veterans Administration health-care system to applying for disability or Wyoming state benefits.
Hamby also guides widows and children of veterans in the process of receiving benefits. The post-9/11 GI Bill, passed by the U.S. Congress in 2010, expanded educational benefits available in the initial Montgomery GI Bill of 1944 from veterans to their dependents. Hamby can help children of veterans find programs to help them pay for their college education.
A lot of Hamby’s time is spent working with veterans to “weed through” the complexities of the VA system and register for health-care benefits. She acts as a liaison between the VA bureaucracy and the veteran and is able to help veterans navigate the VA’s digital platform.
The nearest veteran’s hospitals in Sheridan and Cheyenne are hours away from Sublette County. Veterans in the community are able to use their VA benefits at non-VA clinics in Sublette County through the Veteran’s Choice Program and Hamby can help find providers.
Mental health care is a top priority for the VA and the VSO, Hamby said. The VSO offers a weekly support group every Thursday at its Pinedale office. A professional mental health counselor from the community oversees the group. Recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder is a primary focus but Hamby said that veterans suffering from any mental health issues are welcome to attend. The support group has a strong core of members who represent all ages and wars spanning the past 70 years, she added.
Hamby helps veterans make their VA medical benefits work to find quality mental health providers and care. Many veterans find it extremely difficult to talk about trauma they experienced and other mental health issues. Hamby tries to work as a voice for veterans when dealing with the VA so vets only have to tell their painful stories once.
Working with disability benefits is another crucial part of Hamby’s job. She aids veterans with the paperwork required to file for disability claims through the VA. Once a claim is processed, the VA determines whether or not a disability is compensable and at what level. Physical and mental trauma are both eligible for benefits.
“Many vets come in who are injured emotionally as well as physically from their service,” Hamby said.
Veterans bring in a lot of money to the local economy when they use disability benefits and retirement pensions, Hamby added.
Victims of PTSD-related to sexual assault in the armed forces are also eligible for disability benefits through the VA.
“Sexual assault is not new to the military,” Hamby said, “But the issue is finally being recognized by the VA. We help both men and women who are victims. Many are scared to report sexual assault. But when a victim comes to me and shares their story, that is a huge step in the recovery process.”
Hamby’s favorite part of the job is identifying little-known benefits that veterans are eligible for. The state of Wyoming, for example, offers discounts on property taxes and license plates to veterans. Many private entities offer discounts to vets and their families, including Disney World and Disneyland.
Hamby also coordinates with local chapters of the VFW and American Legion. She can help military descendants request information on a veteran so they can get involved in groups like the American Legion Auxiliary or the Sons of the American Legion.
The VSO receives funding from Sublette County and the County Commission and the office predates the VSOs that were established and funded by the state.
“Sublette County is very supportive of its veterans,” Hamby said.
In addition to the office in Pinedale, Hamby also operates an office in Big Piney on Thursdays. Any veterans in need can contact Hamby at 307-367-4877 or 307-922- 5445.