Derrick Oliveira, a Navy veteran, has joined Placer County as the new veterans services officer, leading an office that helps connect veterans with the benefits they deserve, from healthcare to pensions, and navigate the system. Oliveira took some time to speak about his work and what community members can do to honor Veterans Day.
Five questions with Placer County’s new veterans services officer:
Tell us a little about your background.
I entered the U.S. Navy right after high school in July 2000. I wanted to serve my country. My grandparents served in the Army during World War II. I wasn’t ready for college at the time, and wanted to do something different. I signed up for the Navy, wanting to get away and see the world.
I signed up for five years years. I got more than I could have asked for during that time — camaraderie; education; and a greater sense of purpose, service and sacrifice. I really grew up fast.
After basic training I was sent to the Naval School of Health Sciences in San Diego to complete a 13-month program in medical technology. Then, I was assigned to the clinical laboratory at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was tasked with training junior technicians to become technical experts in field laboratory procedures, such as blood banking. I was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2005 as a hospital corpsman third class.
And what compelled you to keep working with veterans after that?
Well, being in the Navy, ‘once a sailor always a sailor.’ There’s really a sacred bond that is created when you join, and that bond is never severed. I’ve always had the desire to help my community and help people. That’s why I wanted to become a Navy corpsman.
I went to college and double majored in philosophy and literature, and then went to Rome where I completed my master’s degree in theology. I came back to California where I served as a minister for four years, providing counseling to veterans and their families.
From there I continued on to veterans services. I enjoyed pastoral ministry, but wanted to do more, and working for a county gave me that opportunity. I worked for Merced County as a supervisor and acting VSO.
It’s a great feeling to help connect a veteran with his or her benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a rating scale that gives veterans access to health and other benefits. When a veteran comes in and you’re able to help them get 100%, it’s really fulfilling. And it’s a veteran helping a veteran.
What would you want people to know about the services your office provides?
The Veterans Services Office provides assistance to veterans and their dependents, as well as widow(er)s. We connect veterans to all their eligible benefits — everything from healthcare to education. Our staff is knowledgeable, and provide optimal services to veterans and family members who walk into our lobby.
We’re dedicated and care about each veteran. We have approximately 27,000 veterans in Placer County, and we want to help each one. Even if a veteran feels that he or she may not be eligible, we encourage them to come to our office to learn about the programs. They’ll be surprised to see what’s available. When I got out of the military, no one told me about the county Veterans Services Office. So one of my goals is to get the word out there.
What’s been your impression of Placer County and our veteran community thus far?
The veteran community in Placer is thriving and very active. I’ve been here just a week and already heard from many veterans service organizations, and I’m excited to participate and meet more people. I believe in the philosophy of providing veterans services through service and partnership. We collaborate with our community partners to provide services — we’re not in this alone. I’m very impressed with the spirit of giving and service among the veterans in Placer, and excited to work with them toward a common goal.
How can people express their appreciation on Veterans Day?
First and foremost, Veterans Day is a time to honor and thank veterans. It goes a long way to say ‘thank you’ and ‘welcome home’ - especially for our Vietnam veterans, who were not welcomed when they came home from war. Those feelings still exist. If you see any veterans, say thank you.
Saying thank you is important, but it must also lead to serving and helping our veteran community beyond Veterans Day. It’s not just a one-day event; it needs to be every day throughout the year. That commitment should be reflected in our policies and in our county — especially when veterans walk through our doors at the Veterans Services Office.