New veterans service office opens in Niles

Published 2:48 pm Tuesday, May 14, 2024

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NILES — A new veterans service office has opened its doors to southern Berrien County Monday.

The Berrien County Veterans Service Office opened its new Niles location Monday morning. The new office, located in the north end of the Berrien County Niles Courthouse, 1205 Front St., is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays. Appointments can be made by calling (269)983-711 Ext. 6207 and walk-ins are welcome on a first-come, first-served basis.

With the new location, Accredited Veteran Service Officer and Buchanan native Ryan McNeely aims to provide southern Berrien County veterans with easier access to services.

“We’re hoping to get a footprint down here in south county,” said Accredited Veteran Service Officer Ryan McNeely. If you live in Berrien County or know about Berrien County, everything’s centrally located in the north part of the county when the biggest part of the county is the south. We spread out a lot more at the bottom right than we are at the top. Having this footprint down here gives people that option to maybe change what used to be a 30 minute commute North to see us to maybe a five, 10-minute commute now.”

The Niles office will help veterans navigate the Veterans Affairs benefits system, including compensation, pension and survivor benefits for widows or next of kin. For veterans who passed away, the office helps their families file for headstones, burial reimbursements, burial flags and more.

“We hope we’re also a great resource for other community partners that help veterans with things like mental health and homelessness,” McNeely said. “We help navigate the VA system but we’re also a great resource to get you to places that you need to go to get help.”

McNeely, who recently returned to the area after spending 15 years in Alaska helping veterans with services there, is excited to do the same for local veterans.

“I’m a veteran myself, so I like helping veterans,” he said. “We get to argue with the VA on their behalf and get veterans some much needed benefits that help them financially, medically.”

McNeely especially enjoys helping veterans that served in the Korean and Vietnam wars as well as World War II.

“They weren’t really treated with respect back then,” he said. “The VA was not in a good place back then to provide services to those guys so it’s great to get those big wins for those guys.”

For McNeely, one of the office’s biggest goals is to reach out to local veteran organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars or Disabled American Veterans. 

“We’d like to do maybe some outreach during the weeks to go out there and visit those locations to get the word out that we’re here now. There will probably be some outreach here in the future,” he said. “Getting out of the office and getting out there in the community, providing the service out in the community and getting them aware that we’re down here, now.”