The Smith County Communications Office strives to promote transparency by providing the public with the most accurate, accessible and up-to-date information possible while promoting the county's brand and message of "Striving for Excellence."
Located on the first floor of the Smith County Annex Building
200 E. Ferguson, Suite 100
Tyler, Texas 75702
Email: Casey Murphy
Smith County Veteran Services Sees Increase in Clients
The Smith County Veteran Services Office has seen a dramatic increase in office visits from local veterans in the past year, and attributes that to community-wide meetings held throughout the county last summer.
Veteran Services Officer Michael Roark said his office has seen a slight decrease in phone calls, from 1,523 in Fiscal Year 2018, to 1,517 in 2019. But he has seen a jump in client visits, from 1,253 in 2018, to 1,482 in 2019. His office has also aided veterans in filing 907 claims for disability, pensions, etc. in 2019, compared to 720 the year before.
“I attribute the increase in client visits as well as the decrease in phone calls as a result of the community forums we held at the end of FY 2018 and the beginning of FY 2019,” Roark said.
Roark has also seen a jump in Veterans Court participants, from 14 in 2018, to 27 in 2019. There have been 15 Veterans Court graduates this last year, compared to one the year before, he said.
Last year, the Smith County Commissioners Court and Veteran Services Office held a summer-long outreach initiative called “Operation Reciprocity: Serving Those Who Served Us,” to learn how to better serve the local veteran community.
During the Citizens and Veterans Outreach Meetings, county officials offered information about resources available through the Smith County Veteran Services Office and solicited feedback from local veterans regarding how the county can better serve them.
“I am pleased that our outreach meetings during 2018 have produced objective fruit in the quality and quantity of services that the county is able to provide to its veterans,” Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran said. “Our commitment to continuing these efforts remain at the highest level.”
The Smith County Veteran Services Office provides information and advocacy services to veterans and their families throughout the claims, appeals and benefit processes with U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).
There are about 16,000 veterans in Smith County.
Roark and his two assistant veteran services officers, Catherine Thomas and Henry Brown, have been working hard to provide even more services to a greater number of veterans in the community.
Roark and Ms. Thomas were recently certified as a VA Accredited Representatives of Texas Veterans Commission for the preparation, presentation and prosecution of claims for veterans’ benefits. Brown is working toward his certification.
Accreditation is an honor that carries certain responsibilities, according to the VA. An accredited representative has access to VA records to better serve their clients. A VA accredited representative must also follow the VA’S standards of conduct. For more, visit www.va.gov.
The Smith County Veteran Services Officers also serve as counselors and coordinate the Smith County Veterans Courts.
Roark started the Veterans Treatment Court for misdemeanor offenders in 2015, and has also been working on a program for some felony cases. The purpose of the court is to work with veterans charged with certain offenses to get them necessary treatment for any mental health issues and to return them to being productive members of society. Goals set for those going through the program include finding a job and securing their finances; and going to alcohol, drug or anger management meetings and treatment.
Michael Roark, of Chapel Hill, graduated from Robert E. Lee High School and was a Wills Point Police Officer for three years before serving in the National Guard for seven years. He went on active duty in 1988, serving as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army, 82nd Airborne Division, and serving in Operation Just Cause, before he was medically retired in 1992.
After retiring from the military, Roark returned to Tyler and was attending school before he moved to Sweden from 1995 to 2012, where he served as a lieutenant for the Swedish National Prisons Bureau, as well as a K-9 handler.
Roark moved back to Tyler in October 2012, and began working as an Assistant Veterans Service Officer for Smith County in January 2013. On Dec. 15, 2014, Roark took over as Veterans Service Officer and the Veterans Court Program Director.
The office has two assistant Veterans Service Officers -- Catherine Thomas and Henry Brown.
Thomas enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1993, attended basic training and the Law Enforcement Academy at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Her numerous assignments ranged from K-9 law enforcement patrolman to kennel master and installation security manager. During her time as a canine handler, she provided security for several presidents, secretaries of state and five G8 summits. She served in Iraq, Qatar, Australia, South America and Africa.
An advocate for veterans, Thomas serves as the Veterans Treatment Court administrator.
Longtime Smith County employee Henry Brown began working as an assistant veteran services officer in 2018.
He served in the Ready Army in 1980 until 1986, and the Army Reserves from 1987 until 2007, when he retired. Between 1987 and 2007, he was called to serve in Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom.
He began working for Smith County as a Boot Camp Drill Sergeant for the Juvenile Services Department from 2003-04. From 2011-12, he worked in the Records Services Department as a records file clerk, and he worked for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office as a jailer from 2014-18.
The Smith County Veteran Services Office, located at 210 E. Ferguson, is open from 8 a.m. to noon and 1-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For more information, call 903-590-2953 or visit www.smith-county.com/government/departments/veterans.