Four years ago when Greg Pickard was hired as the Veteran Services Officer (VSO) for Wright County, his department was struggling. Like many counties, Veteran Services was tied together with Emergency Management/Nuclear. Unlike most counties, Wright County has a nuclear facility within its borders, which forced the Veteran Services component of the office to take a back seat to the responsibilities with emergency management/preparedness dealing with the Monticello Nuclear Power Plant.
Pickard sought to change that. When he came to Wright County, his office was separated off from Emergency Management so the sole focus could be on assisting Wright County veterans in need of help. At the Dec. 29 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, Pickard took the oath of his office for a second four-year term as Wright County VSO that will run through the end of 2024.
When Pickard arrived in Wright County, his office was a mess – literally. The office was filled with file cabinets that were disorganized and difficult to manage. Things were so bad that Wright County veterans often went to neighboring counties when they had problems because they weren’t convinced they could get the help they needed in Wright County. Pickard knew one of his first jobs was to get his own house in order.
“It’s been a huge difference from when I started,” Pickard said. “It took some time, but we got all the records for the 17,000 veterans that have lived in Wright County scanned and in our system. That is hundreds of thousands of pages of documents. It was a huge job to accomplish, but it was something we needed to do to better serve our veterans in the county.”
Pickard said it has been an ongoing process to get the trust of Wright County veterans back. He has made numerous appearances where veterans gather together to convince them things have changed in Wright County and, slowly but surely, he helped earn the trust of vets who need help.
He is especially proud of assisting Vietnam veterans, many of whom felt ostracized when they returned from active service. Many felt betrayed by the country they were fighting for, not realizing national sentiment toward the war made them unwitting scapegoats in the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
“I find special gratification helping out Vietnam vets,” Pickard said. “Prior to Vietnam, our vets from World War I, World War II and Korea were treated pretty well and respected for their service. When vets came back from Vietnam, they were called baby killers and spit on. They were serving their country just like other vets, but were treated very differently. They’ve had to carry that for 40 or 50 years. When we can help one of those guys, there is a lot of satisfaction that comes with that because they deserve to be acknowledged and respected.”
Pickard is proud of the job he and his small staff have been able to do to be a trusted source to provide whatever help Wright County vets require. He happily signed on to be the Wright County VSO for another four years because it is a job he appreciates every day and wouldn’t change.
“My dad told me, ‘If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,’” Pickard said. “That’s how I’ve looked at this job. There is nothing more satisfying than helping a vet or the spouse of a deceased vet that needs help. Our staff knows that we’re making a difference in the lives of veterans who sacrificed so much for our country. Our citizens owe them a lot and it’s our goal to help them however we can because they deserve it. If you can help a disabled vet get the help they need, there are few things more gratifying.”