Sullivan says serving veterans is ‘true blessing’

Monday, August 27, 2018
Norm Sullivan shakes hands with his successor, Richard Nichols.
By Sabrina Stockrahm

Veterans Service Officer prepares to pass the torch

After nearly 30 years serving local veterans, Norm Sullivan is preparing to pass the torch as the Greene County Veterans Service Officer.

Late last year, Sullivan announced his intent to retire in 2018. This week, the Greene County Commissioners approved his successor to be Richard Nichols.

Sullivan’s last official day will be Oct. 31, allowing time to train Nichols. As retirement looms on the horizon, Sullivan reflects on the history that led him to the Veterans Service Office in the late 80s.

The 1968 Eastern Greene High School graduate grew up in Solsberry with a military history. His father, Kenneth, was a World War II veteran and his grandfather was a World War I veteran. He would go on to add military service to his own list of accomplishments.

“I was one of 12 out of my class of 56 that got drafted,” Sullivan said. “I got drafted, but I signed up for the Navy.”

In 1969, Sullivan started his four-year commitment with the Navy, serving as a corpsman for three and a half years at the hospital in Naples, Italy.

When he first came back to Greene County after his time with the Navy, Sullivan returned to the position he had left at the RCA television plant. About a year after his return on Sept. 1, 1974, he was part of the crew who started a much-needed service in the county.

“Frank Foley started the Greene County Ambulance Service and he was looking for Navy Corpsmen with medical training. He hired me from RCA and we were trained to drive an ambulance. At that time, it was just the funeral homes driving ambulances. Later that year, I took my first EMT class,” Sullivan recalled.

Four years into his time with the Greene County Ambulance Service, Sullivan met his wife, Nancy, at the hospital, and decided it was time for a career change.

“I decided that was a young man’s game,” Sullivan said.

He then spent some time doing traveling photography for a church directory and taught an EMT class before being approached about the Veterans Service Officer position.

In 1988, as commissioners Bob Crowe and Joe Stone were preparing to take office in 1989, they asked Sullivan about taking the position. He said at the time, it was a politically-activated position and the officer would change as a new group of politicians took charge.

“I decided to take on the new challenge and be of service for the veterans,” Sullivan said, noting his background as a corpsman helped with understanding the medical information.

“Being of service locally to veterans has been a true blessing.”

The Greene County Veterans Service Office transports veterans to the Veterans Affairs Hospital (VA) for treatment and also helps veterans file health-related disability claims pertaining to their service. There have been several specific examples where Sullivan said it was especially rewarding to be able to help.

“A couple of the rewarding ones were denied for years, and when they go on appeal, that can take six or eight years. This particular one was an Air Force veteran, and they kept denying he was subjected to Agent Orange because he was in the Air Force. They were saying it was a flyover and in Thailand and not in Vietnam. He kept appealing that and before his death -- he was gravely ill with cancers -- he was awarded that back pay. It was over $200,000. That was real rewarding to see that accomplished, and I think within six months he did pass and his widow received those benefits,” Sullivan said.

He noted this wasn’t an isolated incident of success. In fact, just last week the office was able to help a Vietnam-era veteran secure benefits owed to him which had been a long, drawn out process. The stories are numerous, Sullivan said, and he is appreciative that he was able to help make a difference in the lives of those veterans.

He said it was also rewarding to be able to help many of his fellow classmates who were drafted at the same time to get their benefits.

A big piece of what the Greene County Veterans Service Office does is transporting veterans to the VA Medical Center, with volunteers transporting them to the Indianapolis facility for appointments. If veterans call at least a week ahead, they coordinate transportation.

The transportation aspect was started by Eck Beasley, a World War I veteran.

“He started it with his VW Bug,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan has also stepped in as the unofficial spokesperson during the annual Veteran’s Day event, in which the names of Greene County veterans who have died within that year are read aloud. The event is put on by the Greene County Veterans Council, and he has stepped into the role of reading the names. He said it has become an important part of recognizing local veterans.

“Patriotism isn’t a requirement, but we sure like seeing people be patriotic. 9/11 changed everything. We tried to be patriotic before that, but it really brought out a lot more people after they saw us being attacked on our soil,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said, even with his retirement just around the corner, he hopes to work with the new Veterans Service Officer to spend some of his time driving the van to take veterans to their appointments.

“I look to do some volunteer work, and it may be in this office, depending on what the new service officer wants. Just a few years Richard Nichols volunteered to drive veterans for us,” Sullivan said.

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