Pinellas County boasts the second largest population of veterans in the state, and we’re fortunate to have a dedicated Veterans Services division that strives to provide our veterans with the services they have earned. This month, I’m excited to share an update on the work the department has done to continue serving our veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Veterans Services was forced to transition to remote operation virtually overnight at the start of the pandemic. While this presented challenges, we continued to work with our veterans, providing guidance with compensation and pensions, education benefits, funeral benefits, health care, home loans, life insurance, survivor benefits and vocational rehabilitation, employment services and more.

honored veteran retirees

Pinellas County Facility Operations and Veterans Services recently honored veteran retirees Kerwin Small and Robert Carpentieri. Shown, from left, are Pinellas County Facility Operations Manager Ronald Acoff, retiree and U.S. Navy veteran Robert Carpentieri, Pinellas County HVAC mechanic Jacqueline Shoopman, Pinellas County Facilities Operations Manager John Miller, retiree and U.S. Coast Guard veteran Kerwin Small and Pinellas County Veterans Services Director Zeffery Mims.

While in a remote setting, veterans had to take a more proactive role in the service process, and our department ensured they had the necessary tools to do so. While there was initially a decrease in veterans requesting services, that number quickly bounced back as the department made the transition seamless by identifying veteran needs and helping them adjust to the new process.

In the past, we frequently attended or held events celebrating our veterans’ accomplishments and milestones. These events quickly came to a halt during the pandemic, but I’m glad to report that these opportunities to celebrate our veterans have been returning in recent months.

This past Easter, we partnered with Pasco County Veterans Services, Lowe’s Home Improvement Stores and other community partners to provide a full course Easter meal to more than 150 veterans and their families. Events were hosted at three different Lowe’s locations, including one in Pinellas Park, and each one exceeded expectation. We are thankful for the partnerships and work that went into making these events successful for our veterans.

More recently, Pinellas County Facility Operations worked with Veterans Services to honor two veterans who were retiring from their departments. U.S. Coast Guard veteran Kerwin Small retired after working 20 years with Pinellas County and serving 22 years with the Coast Guard. U.S. Navy veteran Robert Carpentieri retired after working 37 years with Pinellas County and serving four years with the Navy. They were each recognized during a ceremony and gifted American Flag shadow boxes and letters of appreciation.

Looking ahead, Veterans Services Director Zeffery Mims plans to move forward with outreach and recognition programs that were put on hold during the pandemic. This includes an initiative to recognize veterans who work for different municipalities across the county. Through this program, department managers and Veterans Services will be able to identify and publicly recognize veterans for their successes.

If you’re a veteran, or you know a veteran in need of services, please reach out to Pinellas County Veterans Services at (727) 464-8460, and we’ll do our best to help you get the services you have earned.

I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to share an update on our county’s work to recognize and support our veterans. As always, if you have questions or comments, you can call my office at (727) 464-3363 or email me at cjustice@pinellascounty.org.