Hamilton County Veteran Services Officer Charles Alsobrook
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Hamilton County Veteran Services Officer Charles Alsobrook

Help for veterans

The new Hamilton County veterans service officer will be able to provide help in such areas as:

› Service- connected disability compensation

› Dependency and indemnity compensation

› Improved pension program with housebound/aid and attendance

› Health benefits enrollment

› Burial benefits, flags, headstones, markers and military honors

› GI Bill, vocational rehabilitation and dependents educational assistance

› VA insurance programs

› File notices of disagreement and appeals (Form 9) for denied claims

› Order replacement copies of discharge papers, military records, service medical records and order replacement issue for medals earned.

Source: Tennessee County Veterans Service Officers Association

More information

Hamilton County Veterans Service Office 1250 Market St., Suite 1006, Chattanooga, TN 37402

Phone: 423-209-7884

Fax: 423-209-7887

Hamilton County has hired its first-ever veteran services officer to assist the county's vets with benefit claims and other needs.

Charles Alsobrook, a Trenton, Ga., native, discussed his reasons for taking on the new challenge and his years of service to Georgia veterans during a recent interview at his office at the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Development Resource Center on Market Street. He was one of 136 people who responded when the county announced it was seeking applicants for the position this summer.

More than 25,000 veterans live in Hamilton County, nearly double those he helped in his last job.

"I feel like this is a calling," Alsobrook said of the job that requires him to meet with veterans and their dependents, interact with governmental agencies and conduct community outreach. The position pays $50,000 a year.

Until recently, Alsobrook worked as a veteran service officer in LaFayette, Ga., after a stint in the U.S. Air Force. He earned a psychology degree from Louisiana Tech in 2010.

"He is a perfect fit to go out into the community and touch the veterans," County Mayor Jim Coppinger said. "We certainly want to help our veterans who have given so much to this country and this county."

While he specializes in compensation and pension matters, he can help veterans with a range of benefits issues, some of which they may not know they can receive, Alsobrook said.

Increasing awareness of veterans' benefits is a key part of his mission, he said.

"There seems to be a lack of education for veterans for what they are entitled to," Alsobrook said, describing how he had to learn for himself what was available when he left the Air Force. In LaFayette, he was shocked to learn some 90-year-old veterans did not know the veteran service office had existed in the town for 60 years.

He praised the assistance of Joe Wiram, coordinator for veteran student services at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, whom he described "as the first person to walk through my door." Alsobrook also cited growing connections with organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion.

On a daily basis, Alsobrook's role calls on him to make one-on-one connections, he said.

"The main thing for me is I try to have a customer service-oriented mindset and just make veterans feel at home," Alsobrook said. "A lot of veterans are forgotten about or feel like they have been mistreated, especially [those who served in] the Vietnam era. I adjust to whatever their needs are."

Much of the time, Alsobrook said, that means serving as a facilitator to help his clients overcome one of the biggest obstacles between them and their benefits: the time it may take the Department of Veterans Affairs to process a claim.

"I've had cases where I've helped widows and veterans receive $60,000 in back pay," he said. "It's like they win the lottery and they come in with tears, thanking me. That is why I'm really doing the job, knowing I'm making a huge impact in people's lives."

Looking to the future, Alsobrook said he hopes the demand for the office's services will merit more staff. He said he relies on volunteers to help answer the phone and buzz visitors through the secure entrance.

Enter Alan Syler, a former submarine missile technician and longtime veterans advocate who serves as chairman-elect of the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council.

Syler not only volunteers at the office one day a week, he also played a role in hiring Alsobrook. He served with a panel of veterans tasked with evaluating 10 applicants recommended by Hamilton County's human resources staff.

The committee in turn recommended Coppinger consider two finalists. Both had veterans service officer experience and were "head and shoulders" above the other candidates, Syler said.

"It would have been a difficult choice between the two," Syler said. "Chuck is in it for the long haul, and he will do his best for the veterans of Hamilton County."

He praised Alsobrook for being "highly motivated" to help veterans who may face challenges long after they leave the service.

"Some of the things they endure stay with them their entire lives," Syler said.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.