Melancon tackles bureaucracy for vets

Published 5:00 am Monday, July 9, 2007

A Brookhaven resident believes compassion and an ability toblaze a trail through the forest of bureaucratic paperwork willenable to assist others as the new county veteran servicesofficer.

Steve Melancon, 62, replaced Garland Fort in the county officeJuly 1. Fort had served as the veteran services officer for 20years.

“I’m at the point in my life that I want to really help others,”Melancon said. “That’s the point of being a veteran servicesofficer – to be their advocate. I view this job as being anadvocate for the veteran.”

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Walk-ins are welcome in the veterans service office, located inthe Government Complex, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday. Tuesdays arereserved for outside appointments, Melancon said.

Services provided by a veterans service officer vary from countyto county, but one constant is that they assist veterans and theirspouses or widows with locating the right forms and filling themout correctly to receive the services they earned, he said.

“I spent quite a bit of my adult life dealing with bureaucraciesso I am aware of their need, but they can be very confusing,”Melancon said. “If you’ve never dealt with them before it can bemind-boggling.”

A majority of the guidance provided by the office is to helpveterans obtain disability status for service-based injuries andthe pension process.

“A lot of what I do is making sure they get to the rightperson,” Melancon said.

Many people get frustrated with the bureaucratic process and theseemingly never-ending mound of paperwork and quit, denyingthemselves the benefits they earned while serving their country, hesaid. Melancon said his job is to ease them through the process,step-by-step if necessary, and ensure they speak to the rightpeople to keep it moving forward.

He said he also serves as an advocate for the veteran when theireligibility for particular programs come into question.

“Having spent many years in the military, I’m partial to theveteran,” he said.

Melancon had 32 years of experience in the Army when he retired1996, many of them spent in general staff positions and among thehalls of the Pentagon.

The Clinton, La., native moved to Brookhaven when he was twoyears old and enlisted in the Army in 1965. He was commissioned in1966 after graduating from the Field Artillery Officers CandidateProgram at Fort Sill, Okla.

Melancon served one year in Vietnam as an aerial rocketartillery Huey pilot in 1968 for the First Cavalry Division andagain in 1971-1972 in a Cobra helicopter with the 101st AirborneDivision.

He left active duty in 1976 and was commissioned in theMississippi Army National Guard. He graduated from the Universityof Mississippi School of Law in 1979 and returned to Brookhavenwhile serving as the company commander of Brookhaven’s 155thInfantry Division detachment.

Melancon was elected to the House of Representatives District 92in 1980 and served one term. He was transferred to the nationalguard headquarters during that time to serve on the general’sstaff.

In 1988, Melancon was tapped to assist with the creation of theReserve Component Automation System, which helps mobilize nationalguard and reserve units when they are called to active duty. Healso worked on the staff of the director of the Army Guard for afew years before being transferred as the associate director ofoperations for the Selective Service Administration in 1994. Aposition he held until his retirement in 1996.