Northern Berkshire veterans service officer earns state honors

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NORTH ADAMS — Near the end of a long day at the annual Department of Veterans Services Training Conference in Leominster, Stephen Roy was ready for a nap and a meal.

Roy, the veterans agent in North Adams, was shocked when his name was read aloud by state Secretary of Veterans Services Francisco Ureña, who presented him with the 2015 Outstanding Veterans District Award.

"He was reading out offices and awards ... imagine my surprise when my name came up," said Roy, who added he assumed the award for outstanding district would go to an area like Northampton.

But the recognition is no fluke, according to Mayor Richard Alcombright.

"I think it's a great honor and just a great testimony to the work and the service that's done down in that office," Alcombright said.

Roy and his full-time assistant, Tina Samson, provide services to an informal district that includes North Adams, Williamstown, Adams, Clarksburg, Florida and Savoy, which share the costs of his office's services.

As veterans services officer, Roy's main task is assisting veterans and their family members navigate and receive the often complex benefits available to them, ranging from dental care to the cost of a gravestone for a deceased former military member and everything in between.

"You never know what's going to walk in through that door," said Roy, who is a native of the area and served in the Air Force.

From his small two-employee office, Roy manages 143 active cases in the district, each of which is unique. Often, he helps veterans' widows find benefits; other times, he'll help a veteran looking for discharge papers in order to receive benefits.

"Historically, since he has been there, he has turned that district around, increasing caseloads because of demand and what could be directly related to outreach," Ureña said. "He really goes above and beyond."

Ureña told The Eagle that when he visits the Northern Berkshire district — he was here last month for a groundbreaking ceremony on renovations to the Mount Greylock Veterans War Memorial Tower — he's been impressed.

"It was such a tough call to make this year because we have so many districts that are doing great things," he said, "but Stephen really stood out."

Even in a relatively rural area like the Northern Berkshires, North Adams paid out a whopping $604,830.42 in veterans benefits last year, the most of any town within the district. Though that number has remained steady for a few years, it's vastly more than the city paid out a decade ago, according to city officials, a fact that Roy attributes to his strict adherence to state and federal laws along with a willingness to search for any and all benefits to which a veteran is entitled.

The state reimburses 75 percent of the communities' expenses on veterans benefits.

Those numbers only account for the official, publicly funded benefits the North Adams office facilitates. Once again this year, Samson is seeking donations to provide veterans with socks and other simple items during the holidays.

Samson, his assistant, was brought on full-time last year to help with the heavy caseload.

"Steve is the kind of guy who will always step out of his way to help somebody and find solutions. He's got a heavy workload and a heavy caseload, but he's that advocate kind of guy," Alcombright said. "They're both just great advocates for veterans and veterans services. You've got to have people in a position like that who care."


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