New VSO will bring experience to the job
A Fargo veterans advocate was offered the Hubbard County Veterans Service Officer position Wednesday afternoon following a full day of interviews. He accepted the position that same day.
Gregory Remus spent 22 years in the Army as a military police officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
He works with the Disabled American Veterans organization through the Fargo Veterans Administration assisting veterans obtain benefits. He is a national service officer with the DAV.
Remus and a retired Marine from Apple Valley named Greg Skogen were the top picks after the Hubbard County board interviewed six candidates narrowed down from a field of 81 applicants.
Remus has parents living on Leech Lake and said he spends summers in the area. He's married with three children, two attending UND and one in high school in Fargo.
"Each one of them has something special to offer," said commissioner Don Carlson of the field of finalists.
Remus, like the other applicants, said he understood working with the VA bureaucracy filling out paperwork because as a veteran, he has done the same thing for himself.
"Some come back with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)," he said of the veterans he counsels. "The older vets have different experiences."
Remus said his work entails obtaining power-of-attorney agreements to act on behalf of disabled veterans.
And, like many of the other applicants, he said he would like to do more outreach in the smaller towns of Hubbard County to ensure the county contacts all the veterans that may need assistance.
He spoke of completing paperwork in a timely way to process vets' claims, adding, "bad news doesn't get better with age."
He said in that outreach work, he'd address groups of veterans to let them know of new legislation and programs they could take advantage of, to keep them in tune with constantly changing VA directives.
"The VA is a huge bureaucracy," he said. "You can't know everything."
Remus' hiring was conditional on him passing background and reference checks, which came back with exemplary recommendations, coordinator Jack Paul indicated.
Remus will be paid $40,508.51 and begin work April 8. He asked the board for a few days if necessary to wrap up the commitments to North Dakota vets that might be outstanding.
He said he would live in an apartment and likely commute to Fargo until his youngest daughter graduates from high school, then relocate here.
The board also interviewed Joan Long, a Park Rapids native and VSO in Missouri; Tim Weeks, a drug and alcohol counselor from Osage working in Fargo; Clint Danielson, a retired Navy vet from Moorhead and Kevin Litzau, a disabled vet from Bemidji now teaching in Moorhead.
"We want to get a really great person the vets want," board chair Lyle Robinson said. "If they don't like him we're dead in the water."
Jeffrey Burth, supervisor of the VA Regional Claims Office in Fargo, actually conducted the interviews for the board. His office has been assisting the local office since the resignation in January of former VSO Dave W. Konshok, who left to pursue other interests.
Former VSO John Lombard was asked to return part-time to help out until someone could be hired.
"He's doing a really great job," Burth said.
And Burth stressed that a VSO should network with surrounding counties for support in the job. Otherwise "you're on your own little island."
Burth works with Remus in Fargo and didn't voice his opinion or score the applicants during the interviews, to maintain his neutrality. But once the selection was made, he spoke highly of Remus and Skogen.
"Both bring qualities to the table," Burth said.
Remus said he had been following the concerns of veterans in Hubbard County, acknowledging awareness there have been "disgruntled vets" in the region that complained in the past of receiving poor service.
The county, in replacing Konshok, elevated the formerly part-time position to a full-time one. Robinson said compared to neighboring counties, Hubbard County needs to take steps to increase the amount of benefits it brings to its local vets.
"I want to let the vets know I am here and make them comfortable coming in," Remus said.
The interviews were open to the public, but no veterans attended.
"We didn't want to influence the decision," said Dave Free, commander of the Park Rapids American Legion. "We just stayed out of it and let the commissioners do their jobs."
Free said he's happy the commission selected "the best person for the job. It sounds like we're on the right track here. I look forward to meeting him."