Serving Those Who Served
Rebecca Napier Retires from Veteran Service Office
July 6, 2022
In 2010, Rebecca Napier took a job promoted as part-time. Now about 12 years later, she admits the time commitment was not always 20 hours, but it was fulfilling.
“It's been a great job,” Napier said Wednesday, June 29.
Some jobs, occupations focus on the mechanics of service — paperwork, deadlines, reports — while others are more about the people. Working in the Veteran Service Office (VSO) is a balance that can change the tipping point at any given moment. At its simplest definition, it remains a point of service to veterans.
Napier grew up in a military service family with her father serving in World War II. She was offered the job at the VSO by the previous Veteran Service Officer, Ron Gusman.
“I was thankful Ron gave me this job,” she said.
The job was often 20 hours officially, and time committed to the job but outside of the office. She talked of meeting veterans in a grocery store about a setting an appointment, or of paperwork, medical needs... whatever was of a concern.
“I'd get calls at home,” she said.
When Fred Wiedeburg took over as Veteran Service Officer in 2018, the administrative position was changed to 40 hours weekly. He also saw to it that Napier become certified in her work.
“He insisted I become certified with the National Counties Veterans Service Office organization. The certification takes a week-long course and a national test.
On Wednesday, June 29, the Sidney community crowded into the Elks Lodge to celebrate Napier's retirement. The evening started with Veteran Service Officer Fred Wiedeburg introducing Napier and thanking her for her time and commitment in the Veteran Service Office.
Working in the VSO takes being OK in an environment that is constantly changing. Wiedeburg said the workday “really, really varies,” but it is all about helping veterans. He and Napier said veterans from earlier wars often struggled with returning to civilian life.
“Now, they're more savvy,” Wiedeburg said.
Since then the military has started something of a reintegration program, helping veterans return home. Whitney Whatley, the new administrative assistant of the VSO, said one of the biggest misconceptions is veterans come to the office only for benefits.
“Rebecca (Napier) and Fred have done more than register vets,” she said.
Napier talked about one case where she had to stand for a veteran regarding health services.
“We had a 90-year-old veteran who came in. His hearing aids weren't working,” she said.
She contacted the Veterans Administration. She was told his hearing aids were “months out.”
“I said that is unacceptable,” Napier said.
He received his hearing aids in about 10 days. This is only one account of the many veterans helped by Napier, Gusman and then currently Wiedeburg and Whatley.
“We're not just a VSO, we're social workers as well,” Napier said.
Wiedeburg said the VA is not interested in the emotion of a veteran's claim, but the proven facts.
“My job is to put together the very best claim to win the case,” he said.
The office is often a place for veterans to talk, to have a conversation with someone they can relate with. Wiedeburg is a veteran, (Veteran Service Officers in Nebraska are required to be service veterans) and Whatley is a five-year U.S. Marine Corps veteran. The unity, the understanding that vets have each other's back, is a level of assurance often needed.
“The one thing about being a veteran is you take care of your own,” Whatley said.
In her time in the office, she wrote an operations manual, and his conducting a “ride-along” experience for Whatley, training her in the transition of duties.
“I have big shoes to fill. I know that much,” Whatley said.
Wiedeburg said the plan is for Whatley to become an Notary, offer more of a “one-stop-shop” for veterans. Whatley has also developed a Facebook page for veterans.
Napier's retirement will be taken up with more time in the sun and the breeze.
“I have horses. That's one thing I want to do more of,” she said.
She also may get involved with PlainsWest CASA again. She was on the steering committee that brought CASA to Cheyenne County.