By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN
Dick Taylor has spent much of his life serving with and helping military veterans. He was in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1975 to 1979 and since then has worked with local service-related groups, including helping organize the annual Marine Corps Volkslauf Run, the Devil Pups youth encampment and the Honor Flight program.
Now, following his appointment by county supervisors, he's just assumed the reins of the Kern County Veterans Service Department.
We asked Taylor about his plans for the agency.
Q: What is the Kern County Veterans Service Department, and what services does it provide?
A: The department has a dedicated staff whose mission is to assist veterans, their families and their survivors obtain the benefits they have earned as a result of their honorable and faithful military service. Many of our staff are veterans themselves, and they are motivated and knowledgeable.
We provide counseling and advising services for veterans and their spouses on problems concerning community resources, vocational, educational, financial, legal and medical rights and benefits available to veterans. Our staff assists veterans in referring claims to federal and state governments and works with various veterans organizations and community agencies in administering the veterans programs.
We hate red tape so much that we get our kicks out of helping veterans navigate the maze of bureaucracy.
Q: How will your experience as a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and your years of experience working with veterans help you as you take on this challenging new role?
A: It has been said that the Marine Corps makes you afraid, not of dying but of not doing your job. It teaches you to give credit to the many people who help you achieve objectives, and that is part of what teamwork is all about.
The Marine Corps beats into you the traits of dependability and accountability. I have learned through my Marine Corps career -- and through many others like my mom and dad as well as those who have mentored me -- to see challenges in life as opportunities to excel.
The Marine Corps teaches you that great leaders empower those that they lead, to grow into great leaders themselves. And the part about working with veterans? It doesn't get any better than that; what an honor!
Q: What are the most pressing needs for our local military veterans?
A: Employment, education, employment, housing, employment, homelessness, employment, as well as medical and mental health issues. Did I mention employment?
Q: What are your goals for the department in 2013?
A: First, to market and promote the Kern County Veterans Service Department to get veterans to visit our office on Golden State Avenue in Bakersfield to see what benefits they may have earned. Some veterans don't even know we exist, or don't know they may qualify for benefits.
For starters, we have a new feature on The Scott Cox Show on KERN AM 1180 at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays called the "Secret Ninja College of Veterans Knowledge," or something to that effect. Second, work our tails off to assist veterans to obtain the benefits that they have earned.
Third, to partner with employers, businesses and organizations to provide employment opportunities for veterans, and to provide incentives for veterans to patronize businesses in our county. And fourth, to join with our staff in making our Veterans Service Department the innovative leader in its field nationally within five years.
Q: What can volunteers do to help?
A: There are many choices here: 1. Volunteer or donate MONEY to any one of our many fantastic local veteran-related organizations including Honor Flight Kern County, the California Veterans Assistance Foundation, Armed Forces Support Riders, Wounded Heroes Fund, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Volkslauf, Life Over Legs, Jeremy Staat Foundation and many others.
2. If you are an employer or work at a business or organization and wish to help, contact our office so we can explain some of the exciting new programs to provide incentives for veterans to patronize your business, or how we can help you find reliable, mission-oriented, ready-to-work employees.
If you have veterans employed at your organization, the same applies to them: they should visit our office and see if they qualify for benefits as some laws have recently changed.
Our contact info: Kern County Veterans Service Department, 1120 Golden State Ave., Bakersfield, Calif., 93301. 868-7300 or, toll free, 866-218-5367.