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From left, U.S. Navy veteran Reynaldo Carangian, Veterans Service Officer Supervisor Rafael Santiago and Navy veteran Samuel Santiago.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Nov. 11, 201512:00 PM EST

Workspace: Every day is Veterans Day at city's Military Affairs and Veterans Department

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

For more than 60 years, Nov. 11 has been known as Veterans Day in the United States.

At the city’s Military Affairs and Veterans Department, every day is Veterans Day.

The 18-member staff in Suite 175 at City Hall serves about 150,000 veterans who live in Duval County with a range of services.

Those include helping file and secure claims with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, career counseling and even assisting with income tax returns.

According to the city, more than 300,000 contacts were made last year with veterans, including nearly 7,000 former service members who came to the office.

Veterans Service Officer Supervisor Rafael Santiago and his seven-member team of advocates and social service specialists assist clients each day as they apply for benefits or dispute claims denied by the VA.

“We help the veterans navigate the system,” he said. “When an issue is complicated, it can be like going to court without a lawyer.”

One of the priority segments of the local veteran population is those who are homeless.

It can be a difficult transition from the highly structured military life with housing, clothing, food and medical care provided to the civilian world, said Veteran Placement Specialist James Frasier, a retired Marine Corps first sergeant.

“I see the challenges faced by veterans every day. Homeless veterans have lost a lot — especially their pride,” he said.

Frasier works with about 300 local companies who have set aside jobs for veterans and he attends job fairs to recruit more companies into the effort.

In addition, the department offers veterans job placement through the state employment service, CareerSource, 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

In the past year, the city has helped about 300 homeless veterans find permanent housing through a $200,000 three-year grant from the U.S Department of Labor’s Veteran Reintegration Program.

Frasier said there are about 100 veterans still living on the street and the department’s goal is to have no homeless veterans in Jacksonville by the end of 2016.

“It’s not a job for the faint of heart. You see things that can give you tears,” he said.

The city established a department dedicated to serving its veterans shortly after World War II.

The program was expanded by former Mayor John Delaney to include all military affairs, based on the significant contributions made to the community by active-duty military personnel, recently discharged personnel and retirees.

The department serves veterans, their survivors, family members and caregivers who seek access to pension benefits, health care, disability ratings and other earned benefits. All services are provided at no cost.

Department Director Bill Spann said Jacksonville has long been known as the most military- and veteran-friendly community in the country.

It’s the No. 1 requested duty station for Navy personnel and the most popular destination for Navy retirees.

The military has a $12 billion annual economic impact in Duval, $14 billion in Northeast Florida, he said.

To learn more about the city’s advocacy for the military and for veterans or to contact the office directly, visit coj.net and click on Military Affairs and Veterans in the City Departments section under the Government heading.

[email protected]

(904) 356-2466

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