Rick Gloria helped bring about $24.5 million into Baker County last year but it’s not dollars that bring him the most satisfaction.

It’s the people who benefited from his efforts.

That money went to some of Baker County’s heroes — men and women who served in America’s military — in the form of direct disability or pension payments, and for medical services.

As Baker County’s veteran services officer for the past seven years, Gloria finds his work immensely gratifying.

“I tell my wife, I found my dream job,” Gloria told Oregon state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 9, two days before Veterans Day, in Gloria’s office in the Baker County Courthouse.

Owens, whose legislative district includes Baker County, was in Baker City for a town hall meeting with the county’s other state legislator, Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale.

Prior to the town hall, Owen toured the building at 2200 Fourth St. that the county bought in 2020 to house the Baker County Health Department.

Gloria, who is himself a veteran, serving 22 years on active duty with the Oregon National Guard before retiring as a lieutenant colonel, will also be moving into the building, probably within a few months.

Although Gloria beams with pride as he shows Owens a series of spreadsheets documenting the variety of federal benefits that Baker County veterans receive, he’s not satisfied.

He counts among his clients about 1,450 county residents.

But Gloria said there are likely more than 2,000 veterans living in the county — about 12% of the county’s population — and he wants to ensure that they all receive the benefits to which they’re entitled.

“My goal is to get everybody under my management,” he said — meaning they have at least filed claims for potential benefits.

“That’s great,” Owens told Gloria. “Thanks for your work.”

For the federal fiscal year 2020, which ended Sept. 30, 2020, benefits to Baker County veterans totaled $24,451,000, an increase of almost $2.6 million from the previous year, Gloria said.

That amount included:

• $12,710,000 in disability and pension payments.

• $11,255,000 in medical services.

Gloria said his chief task, besides encouraging veterans to contact him, is to help those veterans navigate the sometimes confounding labyrinth of paperwork in the federal Veterans Affairs system.

The federal government aids military veterans and their qualifying spouses with multiple needs, including medical, disability payments and pensions, higher education and burial benefits.

But within each of those categories, Gloria said, the criteria that determine whether a veteran is eligible, and if so for how much money, can be confusing.

To qualify for a pension, for instance, a veteran must be at least 65, or have a permanent and total disability, and have served during one of these wartime periods:

• World War II — Dec. 7, 1941, through Dec. 31, 1946

• Korea — June 27, 1950, through Jan. 31, 1955

• Vietnam — Aug. 5, 1964, through May 7, 1975

• Gulf War/Iraq/Afghanistan — Aug. 2, 1990, through the present

Eligibility for disability payments and medical coverage isn’t as straightforward, Gloria said.

The amount of compensation depends largely on whether a veteran’s disability resulted from his or her military service.

And Veterans Affairs determines the “service-connected” level in 10% increments.

For instance, a veteran whose medical condition is 30% service-connected would receive less compensation than a veteran whose condition is 80% service-connected.

Citing a recent example, Gloria told Owens about a local Air Force veteran who worked as a jet engine mechanic.

The veteran had hearing loss due to his work with the loud engines, and Gloria filed a claim on his behalf. The veteran qualified for monthly disability payments and for free hearing aids.

When Owens asked Gloria if there were any benefits he would like to provide veterans that he can’t now, Gloria’s answer was quick and succinct.

“Dental.”

Gloria said most veterans don’t qualify for dental insurance. The exception is veterans whose medical condition is 100% service-connected, he said.

Gloria told Owens that there are proposals in the Veterans Affairs to expand dental coverage for veterans, something he wholeheartedly endorses.

“There’s a lot of need for dental services,” he said.

Gloria told Owens that one of his most important steps since taking the Baker County job was to go through the process — which he said was more thorough than obtaining a top secret clearance — to have access to the Veterans Affairs online claims system.

That system allows Gloria to see, in real time, the status of any claim that he has filed on behalf of a veteran.

Gloria said he can meet with veterans in person in his office, or over the phone.

He encourages all veterans to call him at 541-523-8223 to discuss their potential eligibility for benefits.

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