Caring Connections: New Veterans Services Initiative

Categories: West Point Magazine, Grad News, Veterans Services
Class Years:

By Keith J. Hamel, WPAOG staff

On November 11, 2023, the West Point Association of Graduates (WPAOG) announced that it is launching a new enhancement to its Grads Helping Grads Program, one that is pertinent to every member of the Long Gray Line. The initiative? Veterans services.

“Every West Point graduate is by definition a veteran,” says Sue Irons ’89, WPAOG’s Veterans Services Specialist, “and, as such, is entitled to VA benefits.” Unfortunately, most do not know much about the benefits owed to them as a result of taking their commissioning oath; that’s where Irons and the WPAOG’s Veterans Services initiative come in.

While WPAOG’s Veterans Services initiative is now officially six months old, Irons had been working for approximately six years to get the initiative off the ground. Long before her time at WPAOG, Irons accepted a position as a veterans service officer (VSO) for a county in her home state of South Dakota. “Many grads would ask me questions about VA benefits when they learned that I was a VSO,” she says. Later Irons became a Class Advisor on the WPAOG Advisory Council and gained in-depth knowledge of all the ways in which WPAOG helps graduates. Finally, after taking a position on the Alumni Support Committee, she put together grads’ needs with WPAOG’s willingness to assist and came up with the idea for a veterans services program for WPAOG. She shared her ideas with the then-Director of Class Services, who then brought them to WPAOG’s Vice President of Alumni Support, who then brought Irons on board in March 2023 as a member of the Alumni Services Team.

Nested within the Grads Helping Grads Program, WPAOG’s Veterans Services initiative aims to provide support to graduates and associate members during times of transition or need and to aid them in navigating the bureaucratic red tape sometimes found in the VA, the largest health care system in the world. “Education is our main effort right now,” says Irons. “We want to develop a landing pad to which grads can come so that they can get all the information they need about VA benefits in one location.” One of Irons’ main educational goals is to reverse the “Well, I don’t need them…” mindset of some graduates. “The government needs to know the impact our service has had on us,” Irons says, “and if we don’t file claims for the benefits to which we are entitled, then we are not going to make serving better for future generations.” And speaking of future generations, Irons believes that it’s important to educate cadets on VA benefits before they set out on their military service journey. “They can then better help their own soldiers,” she says.

“Veterans Services Specialist is more than just a title to me. Helping veterans and their families is a passion of mine. This program will benefit so many and for some, it could change lives.”

— Sue Irons ’89

Presently, Irons is working with classes and West Point Societies to identify and develop subject matter experts who can assist their local network of graduates. “We’ve had about two dozen grads who have expressed interest or who already have experience and expertise in the veterans services area,” she says. Irons is also busy developing partnerships with veterans organizations that have accredited VSOs. With this extensive network of alumni and community partners, WPAOG’s Veterans Service initiative ensures that no graduate walks alone, fostering a sense of camaraderie and belonging that echoes the spirit of their time in service.

“If we can help just one grad who is struggling by getting him or her access to VA benefits, we will have made a difference,” says Irons. “Furthermore, by encouraging and empowering alumni to actively engage with and care for each other, it strengthens the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood forged in the crucible of military service and makes the connections among the Long Gray Line meaningful.” Irons believes that WPAOG’s Veterans Services initiative, going forward with these caring connections, will spread and ultimately fulfill WPAOG’s Vision: “For the Long Gray Line to be the most highly connected alumni body in the world.”

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