GATESVILLE — If you are a military veteran in or around Coryell County and have questions about your benefits, call a friend — Pat Chesser.
Chesser, the Texas Veterans Commission service officer for Coryell County wants to connect veterans with their earned benefits, helping guide them through the sometimes-daunting bureaucracy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Trained and certified by the TVC, Chesser has been the county veterans service officer for the past five years.
Although his primary responsibility is to the estimated 10,000 veterans in Coryell County, Chesser said he has helped veterans in surrounding counties — even some out of state — access their benefits.
He works as an unpaid volunteer, although the county pays mileage for his travel and provides him office space in the MHMR building in Gatesville.
House calls on a Harley
He talks to 25 or 30 veterans a month, on the phone, at his Gatesville office or making house calls, sometimes astride his Harley-Davidson Wide Glide motorcycle.
“If a veteran calls and can’t come to the office, I will make arrangements to go to them,” he said. “The first contact is up to the veteran. If they express a need, I will start the wheels rolling. The wheels of government roll exceedingly slow.”
Older veterans, particularly those who have retired after long military careers, are often more knowledgeable of their benefits and more familiar with navigating bureaucracy, he said.
“New guys, younger guys, are exceptionally ignorant of their benefits,” Chesser said.
Some older veterans who served one or two hitches during Vietnam, Korea or even World War II are sometimes in need of assistance in accessing their benefits, he said.
Proof of service
Young or old, veterans seeking information about benefits should bring their DD-214.
“Everyone who has served has a DD-214,” Chesser said. “It is your proof of service and is paramount to getting your benefits.”
In addition to VA benefits, Chesser advises Texas veterans about an array of state benefits for which they may be eligible.
The state of Texas offers eligible veterans loans for land, a house and home improvement; education assistance through the Hazlewood Act; and burial in state cemeteries for the veteran, their spouses and children.
Chesser has provided guidance to veterans seeking disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder as well as those with medical complications from exposure to Agent Orange.
“If I can’t answer their question, I put them in touch with someone who can,” he said.
A Navy vet
A native of Clarendon, Chesser joined the Navy in 1965 and served nine tours in Vietnam. He retired as a master chief petty officer after 25 years.
He worked as a correctional officer at the Hughes Unit in Gatesville before retiring and focusing his energy to helping fellow veterans.
Chesser reminds veterans their benefits do not expire. He will guide them through the long process of applying for VA benefits, starting with the initial 28-page application form.
If necessary, he will drive them to the VA Medical Center and walk them through the application maze.
Computer on hold
It can be a tedious chore because Chesser processes information the old-fashioned way — face-to-face, by phone or fax, ink on paper. His office currently has no computer or Internet access.
A Temple businessman has offered to furnish him with the software needed to connect with the Central Texas Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Chesser said, but the offer is on hold until he can find a computer.
He is exploring his options — and welcomes suggestions — on acquiring a computer that can hold the VA software and access the county’s WiFi connection.