Luke Thomas, a 26-year U.S. Coast Guard member, recently began a new career as Clatsop County Veteran Service Officer.
As the county’s new Veteran Service Officer, Thomas will assist any veteran, or the spouse or dependents of veterans living in the county. He will counsel veterans on their eligibility for benefits, assist in completing application forms, provide referrals to other resources, help with appeals of denial of benefits and provide other forms of assistance, according to the county.
“I’m working with veterans. I’m letting them know they are not being ignored,” Thomas said. “I’m finding out what their concerns are.”
Since he officially started Dec. 1, Thomas said, he has already collected a long list of messages from veterans on his phone and is busy setting up informal and formal meetings with them.
Thomas does not have a permanent office, but rather his work is mobile throughout the county. He is setting up office spaces at various locations, including Clatsop Community College, to meet with veterans and their families.
Thomas retired from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2009 as a chief petty officer. He served at Coast Guard installations around the country on board various vessels and as a flight mechanic on fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
Thomas, a disabled veteran himself, said he has experienced firsthand accessing the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs for services. He said the agency’s transition from paper to digital record-keeping has shortened the claims process.
“For veterans and their dependents, there are opportunities and programs for all, if you qualify,” Thomas said. “And finding out what you qualify for is pretty simple.”
According to the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, there are about 4,200 veterans in Clatsop County.
Thomas replaces Phil and Buffy Simmons, who shared the duty as Veteran Service Officer for two years before resigning Sept. 30.
The Veteran Service Officer position is funded by the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs at $42,343 per year plus $20,486 in supplemental funding from Clatsop County.
Since moving to Clatsop County in 2002, Thomas has stayed active in the local community. He has volunteered at the Clatsop Community Action Regional Food Bank and with the Astoria High School booster club. His two daughters and son all graduated from Astoria High School.
His background in volunteer work has prepared him for being a Veteran Service Officer, he said.
“I’ve done a lot of community service and this is something that falls right up my alley, being in the Coast Guard and taking care of the community,” Thomas said.
Thomas can be reached at (503) 791-9983, [email protected] or by mail at P.O. Box 2204, Gearhart, OR 97128.