By Steve Sears
When it comes to honoring or veterans of war in November and year-round, Morris County leaves no stones unturned when vets need a hand.
“Morris County yearly holds two formal events for veterans: Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Freeholders award county medals on both days, and there are many other events for veterans held around the county by towns and local organizations and veterans’ organizations throughout the year,” says Kenneth Brenzel, who is the Morris County Veterans Service Officer. The annual Memorial Day event was held in May, and the annual Veterans Day event on October 23. New for the latter event was a resolution presented to the county’s American Legion leadership for the Legion’s 100th anniversary.
More than 19,000 veterans live in Morris County. The oldest veterans are World War II vets who are in their 90s.
“The county’s veterans’ office,” says Larry Ragonese, Morris County Communications Director, “participates in some of those ceremonies. There is also a Veterans Administration clinic located in the county, which is run by the Veterans Administration.”
“We attempt to make the county’s ceremonies special for the veterans,” says Brenzel, “to ensure they are treated with respect and that the ceremonies offer a dignified atmosphere. That includes finding a speaker who can offer a meaningful message, ensuring a color guard, appropriate music, and to ensure we follow military protocol in the ceremonies.” Brenzel also adds that the Board of Freeholders and Veterans Office have begun holding frequent veterans’ commanders’ summits. “They include leaders of county American Legion, VFW and other military organizations with county government officials, freeholders, and others. The goal is to have a continuing dialogue with veterans in the county to make sure we are attending to their needs.”
It’s all about what’s currently being provided, but always improving. Ragonese then elaborates on the scope of the mission. “Morris County is working closely with its veterans’ community to try and better understand the needs of its members and to ensure that we offer programs and services of value to them. We also are trying to better communicate with our veterans, setting up regular meetings with veterans’ leaders, creating a new veterans webpage and calendar of events, and trying to help publicize events of importance to veterans.”
Out of the auspices of the Morris County Veterans Services, events and medal ceremonies are held beyond those previously mentioned. “This office coordinates with the Morris County Communications Office to hold two Morris County Distinguished Military Service Medal ceremonies,” says Brenzel. “One is held in May around Memorial Day, on the front lawn of the Morris County Courthouse, the other is held around Veterans Day, in the County Administration Building in the Freeholders Meeting Room. These ceremonies are to honor veterans who live or have lived in Morris County. The Morris County Freeholders present each participating veteran with a medal, a certificate, and a Morris County Veterans pin. A biography of each veteran is read prior to the award.” Brenzel then adds, “My office has also responded to requests of various veterans’ groups in Morris County that wish to have their veteran members receive medals at their locations, as well as participating in the Morris County Superior Court’s annual veterans ceremony.”
Also, there are two new events this year. The Veterans Services Office is hosting bi-monthly “Munch and Learns”, where representatives of various veterans’ organizations will give presentations on what services their organization provides to veterans. Veterans Services also offers the previously mentioned and periodic “Commanders Summits”, in which the post commanders of the veterans organizations, such as the American Legion, VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), Vietnam Veterans of America, Blind Veterans of America, and others meet with administrators of Human Services and this office to discuss various veteran topics, issues, problems, to promote increased communications between the County offices and the veteran community, to better serve our veterans. “This office,” says Brenzel, “participates in numerous veterans’ events hosted by other organizations to inform veterans of the services this office can provide, give brief consultations, make appointments for veterans to start VA (Veterans Administration) claims, and talk about VA benefits.”
Among the other services provided are assisting veterans and their families with claims to the VA, including claims for Service Connected Disability Compensation, Non-Service Connected Veterans Pension, Surviving Spouse Pension, Burial Benefits, Headstone/Flat Marker, and Presidential Memorial Certificate Requests; conducting home visits to elderly and/or disabled veterans regarding VA claims, and hospital and rehab facility visits for veterans in these facilities; distributing over 25,000 United States flags annually to veterans organizations in Morris County to decorate veterans graves for Memorial Day; hosting Veterans Free Legal Clinics and Resource Expos, where county lawyers provided free consultations to veterans, and several area organizations provide information regarding the services they provide for veterans, and much more.
“As the office’s only accredited veterans service officer,” says Brenzel, “my primary duty is to assist veterans and their families with guidance to navigate the time consuming and often very difficult service connected disability compensation claim and non-service connected pension processes as well other non-monetary types of claims (burial benefits, grave markers, Presidential Memorial Certificates). I see roughly 50 veterans in the office per month; we make or receive about 250 phone calls per month as well as 700 to 800 emails per month. This coupled with committees, outside events, meetings, mandatory training, it can leave little time for planning and executing events, but we get it done. “
For more information, call (973) 285-6866, or email Kenneth Brenzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Veterans Services offices are located at 540 West Hanover Avenue in Morristown.