When Grayson County Veteran’s Services Officer James E. Petty Jr. joined the Army in late 1970s, he fell in love with its people and the joy of serving with them. Years later, he said he still loves veterans from all of the armed services and that he has an opportunity to serve them on a daily basis.
For Petty, who served in the Army for six years, Veterans Day is a day to honor those who served before him, those he served with and all of those who have served after him.
“Primarily, when people come to see me in my office, it’s about money that they are entitled to receive, in one shape, form or fashion,” Petty said in a recent chat.
Sometimes, he said, people are entitled to receive the funds directly through compensation for disabilities that are related to their military service. Other times, they are entitled to the funds indirectly through health care or educational benefits. Either way, it is Petty’s job to help them identify the benefits that pertain to their particular situation and help them obtain them.
In his daily job, he sees vets who are struggling with health issues, both physical and mental, and other issues such as homelessness. The exact number of homeless vets locally, he said, is hard to track.
“Because they tend to fade away from society,” Petty said, explaining those vets are hard to find but his office does make a point of looking for them. “We want to find ways to support them.”
When they do find them, he said, they work those cases like all of the others helping them to get a diagnosis and then finding their service records that prove the problem or illness can be linked to their service career.
“The veterans and the satisfaction you find every time you’ve done them right on the claims process and they are able now to support their themselves and their families,” Petty said about the best part about his job.
Petty sees veterans from their early 20s to their late 90s and sometimes even older. He said the most frustrating part of his job is knowing that a veteran should be eligible for some benefit and not being able to find the proof of that eligibility. The hardest group to find documentation for is a group of vets that served during or before 1964, he said.
“There was a fire that destroyed a lot of records for Army and Air Force veterans,” Petty said, explaining he is usually able to help a veteran find some sort of benefits, but might not be able to help them get everything they are entitled to get.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” he said of those rare occurrences.
Grayson County has between 11,500 and 12,000 veterans. Petty has been doing the job since May 2010 and said he thinks the two-person office probably sees between 10 and 50 veterans a week. The office files about 300 claims a month.
“It is fairly steady in number, but there are certain days of the week that are the heaviest,” he said, explaining those are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
People come on Monday, he said, because they want to get it out of the way and on Friday because they want to get it done before the weekend. Often, when they arrive at his doorstep, veterans are overwhelmed with the process of applying for benefits they earned as military service personnel.
“The paperwork is completely uncomplicated,” Petty said. “It’s the volume of the paperwork that makes the job tense.”
He said sometimes the veterans who come to see him are struggling with mental disabilities that make managing the flow of that paperwork through the system much harder than it might otherwise be. Then again, Petty said, some people could do the work just fine once they know what they need to do.
“By the time I explain it to them, I can usually have it done,” he said.
Graduating from Rockdale High in 1976, Petty attended United States Military Academy at West Point graduating in 1981. He entered the Army as a second lieutenant at Fort Hood in Texas. In 1982, he transferred to Fort Benning. He resigned his commission in 1987 and went to work for Procter & Gamble Company. He married his wife Gayle in 1983. The couple has two grown children, Bradley, who is a soldier, and daughter Rebecca, who is a junior at the University of Texas. Petty received his Masters of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2005.