Veteran helping others through county veterans agency

The director of Auglaize County Veterans Services knows first hand about the men and women she is serving.

Lynne Skaggs is a veteran.

So is her husband, as well as her father, her grandfather, her great-grandfather, her uncles, her brother and cousin. One of her uncles was killed in Vietnam.

Her husband Todd’s father, grandfather and brother also have served in the U.S. military and the couple is likely to have a future veteran growing up in their house.

“We have such a passion for veterans, it kind of takes over our lives,” Skaggs said. “I loved the Army so much I didn’t want to go.”

Skaggs left at a time when she and her husband were about to deploy and had young children at home.

Lynne Skaggs’ husband also has since not re-enlisted after he was injured while deployed in Iraq.

During her three years in the U.S. Army, Skaggs spent time in Germany, where she and Todd met, and Texas. Her future husband worked with rodeo teams and that is where they met one weekend.

They since have had 10-year-old twin boys, Lane and Ethan, and a 3-year-old, Ryan.

Skaggs, 30, who was born and raised in Spencerville, returned to the area with her family several years ago. She has spent the past six years as an investigator and senior officer for the county’s Veterans Service office before being promoted to the director overseeing the office in June.

At the time Skaggs enlisted, she said she wasn’t ready for college and the Army seemed to be the perfect fit.

“I needed direction,” said Skaggs, who ended up serving as a computer programmer.

She said a fairly large percentage of the soldiers with her in basic training were women and while it was challenging, they were never set up to fail.

“They wanted us there,” Skaggs said. “That came from a long line of women fighting to get us where we are today.”

During her time in the service, Skaggs worked closely with Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) and organized charity work. Through her job, she often found herself working closely with the veterans service officers on her post, giving her some familiarity with her future career.

“If I couldn’t be there, at least I could be here,” Skaggs said of her role in the Army and now helping others who have served. “This has now become my preference. There is nothing better than serving veterans. So many gave so much.”

While Skaggs never was deployed overseas, she said she wants to help those who did, who “fought the fight.”

“The people you meet in this job are just amazing … the stories you hear …,” Skaggs said. “Most of the time, they just want to talk, to be heard, and to know that you can relate.

“If you can actually do something about their situation, that’s amazing,” she said.

Skaggs said at first some of the male veterans she works with are hesitant to open up to her as they don’t automatically assume she is a veteran, but once they find that out, she said the change in the information they share is instantaneous.

In the office, Skaggs and her staff see a wide spectrum of veterans, from those who served during World War II, to those who served in Korea and Vietnam, and now those just coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The office serves approximately 4,200 veterans, a number that fluctuates, but is pretty steady.

“We want veterans in here no matter when they served,” Skaggs said.

She said Ohio has one of the largest veteran populations in the country and Auglaize County one of the largest veteran populations among other counties of similar size throughout the state. The Veterans Service organization in Ohio is so well respected, they train other such organizations nationally.

Skaggs, who concentrates on pensions, works with Rob Wiss, who handles financial assistance and helps with transports, and her office manager, Suzie White, to match veterans with the services they need. White is especially good at working with widows.

Included among those services are compensation for those who were injured or have experienced disease caused by their service, pension for those who served at least 90 days during a period of war and need the assistance because of low income or high medical expenses, health care including medical appointments or prescriptions, transportation to appointments, and financial assistance with rent, mortgages, electricity, heat or gas for vehicles during hard times. The office also provides plaque markers.

In addition to the three members of the office staff, Auglaize County Veterans Service has five van drivers. Operations and decisions are overseen by an appointed five-member board.

“It’s nice to have them to go to,” Skaggs said. “They make the big decisions, approving or denying financial assistance. They are all very seasoned.”

Skaggs, who admits she is still getting a handle on the role of director, said in the future, she would like to be able to do even more outreach to veterans.

“I want to be able to help them more in that way,” Skaggs said. “No matter the number of people you reach, there is always someone who says they never knew you existed. My goal is to never hear that again.”

She said she would also like to keep her service officers working with her for years because of how well she thinks they work together and the variety of skills they offer.

“Everyone has something they bring to the table,” said Skaggs, who wants to maintain the cohesion they have now.

Also, as veterans’ laws are constantly changing, Skaggs said eventually she would like to become a part of that, too.

“I’m not to the place yet where I feel comfortable speaking on behalf of the whole of veterans,” Skaggs said.

With a large part of her work involving medical concerns, Skaggs said she would like to get a better grasp  on traumatic brain injuries and cancers so she can better delve into veterans’ medical records.

Outside of work, the Skaggs are actively involved in Harvest  Church.

“Everything centers around our kids,” Skaggs said.

She is involved in the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) of Wapakoneta and her husband is involved in the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in Spencerville.

“We hope to get more active,” said Skaggs, an admitted history buff who said family vacations often end up on battlefields.

Gettysburg and Washington, D.C. are next on the family’s list of places to visit. To date, they have made approximately five trips centered around historical sites in the U.S.

“My husband is from Missouri and we have kind of branched out slowly,” Skaggs said, noting that the farthest they have been is to visit the Alamo when she and her husband were both stationed in Texas.

The Skaggs also spend a lot of time hiking and camping on acreage the family owns in Tennessee.

With one of their oldest sons already moving toward a career in the military, Skaggs said if her children don’t serve in the military, at least they will know history.

“It’s all Ethan talks about,” Skaggs said. “Since he was little that’s all he has talked about, I want that for him so bad. The memories I want him to have. I want us to have someone to hand that down to.”