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Better access for the county’s veterans

By Staff | Apr 1, 2018

The friendly staff of the Faribault County Veterans Services Office make the trip from Blue Earth to Winnebago in an effort to improve accessibility for area veterans. From left to right; Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Navy Norbert Sonnek, 25-year VSO worker LeAnn Eastman, administrative assistant Wendy Brown, VSO officer Jenna Schmidtke, and United States Navy Vietnam veteran Dale Herpestad.

The Faribault County Veterans Services Office has a goal of improving their accessibility throughout the county while also raising awareness for their operation. On Wednesday, March 28, the VSO took a big step towards achieving that goal.

Veterans Services Officer Jenna Schmidtke, administrative assistant Wendy Brown and recently retired license bureau member LeAnn Eastman all made their way to the Winnebago Municipal Center for an open house visit with area veterans.

While it was the group’s first open house visit to Winnebago, it certainly will not be the last. According to Brown, the Veterans Service Office looks forward to a continued presence in Winnebago.

“We are now going to be here every fourth Wednesday of the month,” Brown says. “We’re making ourselves mobile so we are going to come here, and we are also trying to link up with Wells, so one day a month we’d take our office there.”

The staff from Veterans Services decided to host their first open house in Winnebago due to the town’s condensed population of veterans. While plans for an open house in Wells have not yet been finalized, Schmidtke says visits to both cities will help make the process more convenient for veterans who need help.

“There are a lot of veterans who may have transportation issues coming to our Blue Earth office,” Schmidtke explains. “Winnebago and Wells are both towns where I see that population of veterans and surviving spouses as being more prevalent.”

So what exactly does the Veteran Services staff do to help those who have served our country? The VSO helps veterans sort through various documentation concerns. In addition, the VSO is well equipped to address pension plan information, sorting through disability claims and appeals, and even helping surviving spouses who need assistance in receiving death benefits. Brown says the main goal of the VSO is to serve as an educational resource for veterans.

“There are a lot of forms to fill out, and if you don’t understand them, just ask,” Brown shares. “We’ll be able to look at your files and we will have all your information here at our fingertips.”

Within the VSO staff, Schmidtke in particular has a vested interest in helping area veterans as she is a veteran herself. The Winnebago native was in active duty for the United States Army from 2006-2010. Stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Schmidtke served as a combat medic in Iraq for 16 months.

Equipped with an innate desire to help others, Schmidtke, who also earned a pre-med degree from Austin Peay State University, says her current role at the VSO is a perfect fit for her unique set of skills.

“I’m able to apply my medical experience and connect the dots,” Schmidtke says. “If I didn’t have those experiences under my belt, it would have been very overwhelming to learn the whole process.”

Not only did Schmidtke serve in the military, but a number of her cousins also have as well. In fact, her grandfather, Howard, a member of the Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame from St. James, is a 93 year-old U.S. Army veteran of World War II.

Schmidtke feels a great sense of pride, not only in carrying on her family history, but in also helping the brave men and women who have fought to protect the freedoms enjoyed by all United States citizens.

“My grandfather is such a strong man,” Schmidtke says. “He was a big advocate for me when I made the decision to join the military out of high school. I have a lot of respect for veterans of all eras.”