Florida Department of Veterans Affairs advocates for the more than 1.5 million veterans in Florida. This is accomplished by dispatching Veterans Services Officers to every county in the State. Veterans Services Officers (VSOs) work to ensure veterans have access to the benefits they have earned. Since One-third of Florida Veterans are entitled to benefits they do not receive, VSOs have a mission to connect Florida’s Veterans with the benefits they’ve earned and to provide much-needed services and support.
VSOs are there to help veterans and their dependents write and submit benefit claims to the VA. They can also assist with widower benefits after losing a loved one who had served. Sometimes, they are simply a place for veterans to turn to when dealing with delicate issues.
There are nearly 170,000 female veterans in Florida, and 5,000 live in Pasco County. In 2022, Chaplain Don Hinst, with The American Legion Post 108 (which encompasses a large part of central Pasco County), recognized a severe void in female representation and the need for someone to advocate for the female veterans of his Post and his county. He began to pray for a female service officer.
Carol West had been caring for her mother in Highlands County. After 21 years in the military and retirement as Master Sergeant with the United States Air Force, Carol devoted her time to her mom. It was 2022, and while holding her mother’s hand, Carol’s mom spoke with sincerity and conviction, “It is time for me to go so that you can live.” After Carol’s mom had passed, she grieved deeply for her mother but also felt a strong push to honor her by living. It was then that Carol felt fulfilled and ready to move forward. Her mission in Highlands County was complete.
Carol felt spiritually led to move, and while scrolling through her email feed, she came across an opening for a Veteran Service Officer position in Land O’Lakes, Florida. Carol had retired from MacDill Air Force Base but knew nothing about Land O’Lakes except the butter. Carol proceeded to apply for the position. With only a short time before the position would close, Carol stayed up until midnight, completing her online application.
Carol did not know about the Chaplain who was praying for her. Praying for her arrival in Pasco County.
Carol got the job. Her official job offer came on the first anniversary of her mother’s passing. Her start date was June 20th, her mother’s birthday. Carol could feel her mother in everything happening, and she knew God had his hand in everything that had brought her to this point.
For the Chaplain, his prayers had been answered.
When Carol arrived at her new position as a Veterans Services Officer for Pasco County, Don quickly entered her office to meet her. It wasn’t long before Carol was ‘Voluntold’ that she had been voted in as The American Legion Post 108 Service Officer, where her obligations include being an asset for veterans and widowers who need help with disability claims, pensions, and benefits. She is also tasked to sing the National Anthem on occasion.
Carol admits that her arrival to Pasco County was not her doing. The power of God’s work is what brought her here.
Carol is currently the only female VSO in Pasco County, Florida. She understands and is humbled by the enormous impact her presence can have on the female veteran population in Pasco County. Carol recognizes the value of all Veteran Service Officers. There is no denying that some female veterans feel more comfortable speaking to a female regarding delicate matters. Carol feels her impact strongly when dealing with someone who has recently lost their spouse. She remembers the loss of her mother and the pain she felt. When working with a widower, she comes around her desk to offer an embrace and a shoulder to cry on. “I want them to know they have a friend and someone who cares,” says Carol, “I ask them to tell me a funny story about their spouse. I ask them to show me a picture and where they met.” Carol’s empathy almost always stops the tears. “They light up when reliving a memory they have of their loved one.”
If you are a veteran in Pasco County, there is someone waiting to speak to you. Someone with a warm smile and a lot of patience. You can visit Carol’s office at 4111 Land O’Lakes Blvd. Ste 102 in Land O’Lakes, Florida. There is a plethora of assistance opportunities available at the Pasco County Veterans Service Office, including:
Request Your Military Records and Discharge Papers
Help to submit Benefit Claims
Access to Resources