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2017-11-08 / News

Area Veterans: You’ve Got A Friend in Charlie Piper

By Sara Andros


Charlie Piper and Donna Elderkin are the people area Veterans should contact about information and referrals pertaining to their service. 
Sara Andros/The Reporter Charlie Piper and Donna Elderkin are the people area Veterans should contact about information and referrals pertaining to their service. Sara Andros/The Reporter Charlie Piper’s face lights up when he talks about the veterans he works with. In his position as Director and Veterans Service Officer for Delaware County, he sees a lot of veterans, and hopes to see many more.

The Delaware County Veterans Service Agency is separate from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) and is designed specifically to meet the needs of veterans in the Delaware County region. Piper is relatively new to the job having come to the agency in December 2014, but credits assistant director Donna Elderkin, who has worked for the agency for 28 years, with keeping things running smoothly. “We make a good team,” said Piper.

They do their best to reach out to all veterans in Delaware County. “Some of the World War II veterans don’t know how to access the website or Facebook page,” said Piper, so he tries to use radio, newspaper and other media to make sure all veterans are aware of the Veterans Service Agency and the services they offer.

Some of the services offered include information and referral services and assistance with the real property tax exclusion. “Donna (Elderkin) is the tax expert,” said Piper. Additional services offered by the Delaware County Veterans Service Agency are transportation to the VA medical Center in Albany, notary services, and help obtaining legal documents.

Piper shares a building with the CDO Workforce in Delhi, and he has been a positive addition for them as well. Lisa Buel, an employee of the agency said “Charlie is amazing. He truly cares about who they (veterans) are and their wellbeing. He will take any of amount of time needed with them or on their behalf to make sure they are taken care of. He’s one of a kind! Since Charlie came to the Delaware County Veteran’s office, our offices have built a critical relationship in assisting unemployed or underemployed veterans,” said Buel.

Piper started his military career with the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1977. He enlisted to serve his country and to access financial assistance with his education through the G.I. Bill. He served in the USAF for 26 years and subsequently earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from SUNY Oneonta. Piper had only good things to say about the way veterans are treated at both SUNY Oneonta and SUNY Delhi; “They are fabulous to veterans.”

Piper travelled all over the world during his military career. He started out doing aircraft maintenance, and subsequently worked in air traffic control. The final years of his service were spent as a First Sergeant, or what he refers to as the “dad of a unit”. The title is appropriate because both he and Elderkin think of all veterans as family. It is important to Piper that all veterans feel welcome when they meet with him.

After he retired in 2003, he and his wife were anxious to find property and put down roots. They visited many states in search of the perfect spot; after a while Piper recalled that all of the land started to look the same. When they visited Delaware County, they knew it was the place for them after talking with local residents. “It’s a wonderful community,” said Piper.

Piper commented that veterans will often get information from each other and it may not always be completely accurate. He encourages all veterans to give him or Elderkin a call. Trying to get any type of benefits usually involves completing piles of forms and wading through endless amounts of red tape; Piper and Elderkin help overwhelmed veterans get through all of that. Because benefits are based on the time of service and the type of discharge, they can vary widely. Piper has been able to help some veterans get their discharges upgraded, which in turn makes them eligible for additional benefits.

Piper is also QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) certified and part of a suicide prevention coalition. QPR is an approach to suicide prevention that has been very successful. Piper said that he hears things from the veterans he serves that many haven’t been able to tell anyone else. Some veterans have very little hope. He wants to ensure that every vet gets the help or services that they need and are entitled to.

When asked about some of his memorable success stories, Piper recalled a very bitter Vietnam vet who was extremely angry because he had applied for and been denied benefits. His medical situation did not qualify at the time. The veteran was in financial straits and in danger of losing his home and his marriage. He stormed out of the office loudly vocalizing his displeasure with the situation.

Piper gave him a little time to cool off and then called him up. He explained to him that there might be a different avenue for him to get help, possibly from the Save a Vet Fund that provides emergency funds for veterans. When they put out the word that someone needed help, the community responded. They collected over $1,000 which helped pay some of the back taxes the veteran owed. “Delaware County people are some of the most giving people,” said Piper.

Piper was eventually able to get him 100% service disability payments because his illness was related to exposure to Agent Orange. It is difficult for Piper not to choke up when he recalls his last visit with him in his home. The veteran told him “You’ve restored my faith in humanity.” The vet died a few months later without a financial burden hanging over him, knowing that his wife would receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, thanks in large part to the efforts of Piper and Elderkin. Stories like that are what keep them going.

It is obvious that Piper loves what he does and goes above and beyond to help others who have served their country. Veterans with specific needs or questions, or those who just need a friendly ear, should contact the agency. Piper’s motto is: “We will help you help yourself.”

Delaware County Veterans Service Agency: 607-832- 5345.

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