On Aug. 14, Jeff McNeill began his role as the new Orange County Veterans Services Officer — a job centered on outreach to and service for veterans.
In this role, McNeill said he hopes to make Orange County veterans aware of their benefits and how to access them, including loans, medical services, insurance and pensions.
The North Carolina native joined the military in the '90s and, afterward, worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as an adjudicator. After retiring for a few years, McNeill came back to Orange County because the Veterans Services position was open.
“The position hasn’t been filled full time in six months, so the community was really wanting that position to be filled,” McNeill said.
McNeill also said that he wants to focus on women veterans and make them feel safe and comfortable. He said he is focused on changing the physical appearance and environment of the office, too.
“I play a little jazz in the background," McNeill said. "I'm doing stuff and working with clients, but outreach and getting out there, talking to people, talking in groups, working with American Legion DAV, stuff like that is the main thing I've been doing so far.”
He said the veteran community often needs guidance and help with the complicated paperwork surrounding benefits and services.
“They’re on their own to fill out the paperwork, and one mistake can set you back already, maybe six to nine months to get a claim through. If you make a mistake, you're looking at a year,” McNeill said. “So my job is to make sure people don’t make mistakes, do things the correct way and get it right the first time.”
Suzanne Hitt, a social services supervisor for Orange County, said that veterans are often unaware of the resources available to them and that the Veterans Services Officer is a resource to them. Hitt supervises McNeill in his new position.