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Honoring their service

Veterans service officer Cambria “Cam” Sparks worksin her office in the Fayette County Courthouse annex.

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

With about 2,200 military veterans living in Fayette County, Cambria “Cam” Sparks has a lot of territory to cover in only 24 hours a week.

Sparks, 37, is the Fayette County veterans service officer, appointed to the part-time position last November by the county commissioners. Her office is in the courthouse annex at 111 W. Fourth St.

“Veterans come in with questions about all kinds of things,” Sparks said.

She helps them obtain benefits such as service-connected disability, retirement, pensions, widow and widower benefits and survivor benefits. Sometimes, it’s a matter of helping them get a new DD214, the discharge certificate required before many benefits can be obtained.

“I fill out paperwork, I fax it to the state, whatever it takes to help them get the benefits they are entitled to,” Sparks said. “We also have grants available to help in emergencies, like if a veteran is being evicted or if utilities are being shut off. Sometimes with homeless veterans, I try to find a place for them to stay and get up on their own.”

She has had training for this office at the state level and can connect with VSOs in other counties if she needs help.

One of the bigger challenges she faces is getting word out so that veterans know about what kinds of help she can provide. She knows that is the case through her own personal experience.

“I didn’t know the position existed,” she said. “A friend saw the job posting and tagged me, and said I needed to apply for it.”

Sometimes, her work involves just being a good listener, giving local veterans an ear or sharing experiences. “I want these veterans to know they aren’t alone, that they are valued.”

Sparks is in the Indiana National Guard, a member of the 38th Military Police unit out of Monticello. She normally spends a weekend a month and a couple of weeks each summer in training. She also served a year on active duty in Iraq. She’s served 11 years and plans to go for 20 years.

Having that active duty under her belt gives her something in common with other veterans, even those who served long ago, she said. She spoke of delivering food one day with a World War II veteran who shared his experiences with her. She felt bonded to him by the common experience of military service and he seemed happy to be able to speak with someone who understood where he’d been.

Sparks wants her work as VSO to be more than just a job. She wants to be more active with local veterans groups and she hopes the community can celebrate veterans the way it did when she was younger. She is hopeful the Armed Forces Day parade can be renewed.

She wants to work with the local Veterans Council, which helps coordinate activities and services of the local veterans organizations.

She also wants to help establish a support group in which veterans, especially those with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can just talk about it with others and perhaps find help.

Sparks is a Fayette County native, a graduate of Connersville High School. Many in her family have military backgrounds.

She got back from Iraq with a new appreciation for life here, and says she wants to improve things so that her own children can have a better life. For her, that meant earning a degree in criminal justice. Before becoming the veterans service officer, she worked at the Hoosier Youth Challenge Academy in Knightstown and then at Wernle Children’s Home in Richmond.

“Veterans, I think they are often forgotten. For me to be able to reach out and help as many as I can, I think it’s awesome,” she said. “These people put their lives out for us.”

Veterans Service Officer

Who: Cambria "Cam" Sparks

What: A local office meant to help connect veterans with benefits and services.

When: Office open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday. Appointments only on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Where: 111 W. 4th St.

Why: Applying for veterans benefits often requires special knowledge.

How: Visit the office or call 765-825-8412 or contact by email, veterans@co.fayette.in.us.