IOWA CITY– Master Sergeant Gary Boseneiler, Air Force (Ret.) has long been assisting those who serve in our nation’s military. For three years, Boseneiler was on special assignment as an instructor of college ROTC Air Force cadets at the University of Iowa.
He has a new assignment now, helping veterans of all branches of the service as Johnson County’s Director of Veteran Affairs.
The Johnson County Veteran Affairs Commission recommended for the position, and the Johnson County Board of Supervisors officially approved his hiring on Aug. 23. Boseneiler replaces former director Leo Baier, who served Johnson County veterans for 18 years.
Originally from Dixon, Ill., Boseneiler joined the service right out of high school. He met his wife, also a native Iowan and in the Air Force, while in New York. The family came to Iowa when Boseneiler was chosen to teach the ROTC program. After an offer to return to a military assignment in Seattle, Boseneiler and his family, including his two daughters who now attend West High and the University of Northern Iowa, decided Iowa was where they wanted to stay. He retired after 21 years in the military.
Boseneiler has lived in North Liberty for eight years, coaching baseball, volunteering and working in a variety of positions before accepting the job with Johnson County.
“This one was a perfect fit for me,” Boseneiler said, as it combines skills garnered in both his fields of study. Boseneiler has a degree in human services and his MBA, which he finished at Columbia Southern University. His experience as a social worker with a non-profit service agency was one of the things that made him a stand-out candidate to Veteran Affairs commissioner Mike Hensch.
“Gary has worked with people who have gone through difficult times in their lives, so I knew he would be helpful to people in those situations,” said Hensch. “He has a very calm personality, and I know he will look at things analytically and find better processes and better ways to do things.”
Additionally, Hensch said Boseneiler’s teaching experience and his time in the Air Force will also be a strength.
“He has the ability to work with those in active duty, because of his years in the Air Force, and I liked that he worked with ROTC students in Iowa City, because he will be able to relate to younger people as well, like the veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan now,” Hensch said.
The office of the Veteran Affairs Commission provides temporary assistance to honorably discharged veterans, including providing vouchers for food, helping with utility bills and rental assistance, filing pension and medial claims, filing for social security benefits or admission to the Veterans Affairs Health Care System and helping with burial assistance.
Boseneiler said one of his goals as director is to seek ways to follow up with veterans after their initial visits to make sure the assistance needed is, indeed, temporary. In other words. Boseneiler said, he hopes to help connect veterans to Workforce Development, social workers and other agencies that can help them gain the skills necessary to transition back into independence.
“I don’t want this program to be an entitlement program. I want it to truly be what its intent is– to be temporary,” he said. “But that term means different things to different counties.”
Johnson County is more fortunate than many other areas, he believes, because of having a veterans’ medical facility close by.
“There are several representatives– from the American Legion, the VFW, to name a few– at the VA hospital that can assist with a lot of things we can assist with, like filing for pensions or medical claims,” Boseneiler said.
But the needs of veterans vary greatly from person to person, Boseneiler noted, as his office sees a wide range of clients, from those who served in WWII to those who are just one day removed from Iraq.
“The struggles are unique to the individual in how they deal with it. My major concern is transition assistance, with job skills and community service and people skills. It’s almost like starting over again when you transition back into the civilian world. You may have the experience and education and knowledge, but companies still want a person to start from the ground up,” he said.
Boseneiler said his office sees about 10 veterans per day, providing temporary financial assistance and other services, in addition to providing job counseling, referring people to the appropriate social service agencies, and sometimes, just listening to their concerns.
“ Often times I’m simply a sounding board,” Boseneiler said.
In order to initiate services at the Veteran Affairs office, the first step is to bring a copy of one’s discharge papers, commonly called DD214. Boseneiler can help in locating discharge papers for indigent veterans, but having the paperwork in hand will expedite things. Veterans seeking assistance must have been honorably discharged, must qualify within the guidelines for their time in the military, and fall within a certain net income. Spouses of veterans are also sometimes entitled to benefits and can get help at the Veteran Affairs office, and in some circumstances, children may be eligible for assistance too.
Unfortunately, Boseneiler said, there are still people who are not even aware that the Veteran Affairs office exists to help them.
“I want to increase outreach, but advertising to our clientele is unique because many don’t have access to newspapers, Internet or email,” said Boseneiler. To help, he has already started to install a computer station in the Veteran Affairs office for veterans’ use for those who don’t have access at home or don’t feel comfortable using a public computer at the library.
“So I will be looking for a new approach, and it will be a challenge to get the information to those who need it.”
In fact, reaching out to veterans is a major priority of the Veteran Affairs Commission as well, said Mike Hensch, and Boseneiler’s
“Gary is very interested in getting out and meeting all the people involved in similar capacities,” said Hensch. “It looks as if he is trying to take a very community-oriented approach. Our number one concern was for outreach; to find those vets in the community, and help connect them to the benefits they have earned.”
Boseneiler said he knows he now has big shoes to fill; Baier stayed in office for a week after his retirement in order to help Boseneiler get oriented to the position.
“My time with Leo was great,” he said. “It was my pleasure to spend our limited time together. His number one goal was always to help vets, and I want to continue to provide the same service, while taking it to the next level.”
Hensch said he is confident his commission picked the right person to do just that.
“I think a year from now the taxpayers will be very pleased with the services that office is offering,” Hensch said.