Bak named new Garfield County veterans service officer

November 7, 2016

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Garfield County has named Greg Bak, a U.S. Navy veteran, as its new Veterans Service Officer (VSO), and he will take the helm on
Jan. 1. He’s replacing longtime VSO Joe Carpenter, who is retiring after roughly 17 years at the post. Bak, who is an emergency medical technician and firefighter at Colorado River Fire Rescue, said he wanted to do more for his fellow veterans. Coincidentally, he had spoken of such just prior to seeing that the VSO position was available.

“I was having a discussion with my wife about how I felt like I had to do more for veterans just a day or two before I spotted the ad from Garfield County,” he said.

Bak’s focus will be on communication between local veterans and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). His contract with the county is for two years beginning on Jan. 1, at a salary of $45,000 a year, and a one-time $2,500 stipend for training and office set-up costs.

Bak says it’s important to ensure veterans are aware of the benefits available to them as a result of their service, including health care, VA home loans, and the GI Bill, among others. “I have always felt a sense of frustration in my fellow vets in their ability to gather complete information and connect with the VA,” He said. “There seems to be a disconnect there.”

Carpenter, whose father held the same post prior to him, said the majority of the VSO’s work consists of helping veterans attain earned benefits through the VA. He noted that the eligibility process is based on income, with the threshold of $45,000 for families in Garfield County.

Veterans with disabilities from their service time automatically qualify for benefits, he added.

But the process can be confusing, and that’s where the VSO steps in. They assist veterans with anything from acquiring a hearing aid to receiving treatment for cancer from Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, Carpenter said.

“We’re helping guys logistically wade through claims for compensation,” he said. “We try and get them in the system.”

Tragically, Bak said an acquaintance’s veteran husband committed suicide a couple years ago, and the man’s assessment that he wasn’t “in the VA’s pipeline” may have been a contributing factor.

He added that the VA does a good job in connecting veterans with needed services, as long as the necessary paperwork is filed correctly, despite recent negative stories in the media. Bak will be shadowing Carpenter, a fellow Navy veteran, to familiarize himself with the job in November and December. The terms of that two-month contract have not yet been finalized. Bak stressed that veterans should feel free to call with any inquiry they have. “If they have any question regarding eligibility and what they’ve earned, contact Joe or myself,” he said.

Carpenter said that Bak is a good fit to take the reins at Garfield County. “He’s a real caring guy and very technologically sound. He’s a computer guy and a people guy,” he said. “He has a big heart and is driven to help veterans.” Bak added that finding reliable transportation is an ongoing issue for Garfield County’s veterans.

“A lot of vets want to get to the VA center in Grand Junction, and cannot arrange transportation,” he said.

Even though he’s retiring, Carpenter will still be operating the nonprofit Vet-Trans service, which drives veterans to the Grand Junction VA Medical Center.
“I’m going to do that as long as I can,” Carpenter said.

Garfield County Veteran Services can be contacted at 970-989-0084.