Veterans Affairs director draws on military experience

Daniel McIntyre of Blue Knob took the job as Blair County’s director of veterans affairs on April 28. His office is located on the first floor of the Blair County Courthouse. Office hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily but McIntyre encourages those seeking help to make an appointment. He recently sat down with Mirror reporter Kay Stephens to talk about his work.

Mirror: What are the main responsibilities of your job?

McIntyre: I assist the veterans filing compensation requests, pension benefits, burial benefits and guiding them through the VA system. There are roughly about 30,000 veterans in Blair County, and I deal a lot in pensions, non-service connected widows’ pensions, helping veterans get into nursing homes or get nursing home care.

Mirror: You did something similar for the VFW in your previous job, as a mobile services officer.

McIntyre: At the time, I was the only mobile services officer and I covered about six counties. My office was literally in my car. I had a laptop, mobile printer, and I went from VFW to VFW …. or I’d go to their homes …. I love this job, I love saying: “I’m here,” this is where I’m located, having somewhere to sit down. And everyone knows where to find me.

Mirror: Why does the county have a veterans services director?

McIntyre: There are county programs and there are state programs that the veteran services organization officers do not have access to, and they can’t do it. The worst part of my job, the part I don’t like doing, is the filing for burial benefits, but it’s a necessity and a part of the job. Getting access to those benefits, from the state, can only be done through the county veterans affairs representative.

Mirror: Any other responsibilities?

McIntyre: We maintain the history of the veterans throughout Blair County. We do have a database on all the wartime veterans. Plus, this office is responsible for the burial markers that mark the veterans’ grave sites.

Last year, we ordered 197 boxes of flags to mark the cemeteries. I’m the one all the organizations come to for the flags to mark the veterans. They are put up for Memorial Day and are to remain on the graves until Veterans Day.

Mirror: Tell us about your military background.

McIntyre: I left Blair County in 1986, graduated from Hollidaysburg. Actually, I didn’t even go to graduation. I was already in basic training when they graduated. I started, my first stint, as airborne infantry, then got out in 1997 and came back here and was in the reserves for four years. Then right after 911, I got cordially invited to come back to the army and I ended up being an Army recruiter for four years right here in Blair County, from 2002 to 2005. After that, I went down to Virginia and did another four or five years as a recruiter, then retired.

Mirror: Why did you sign up for the military?

McIntyre: My grandfather was a World War II veteran. I have an uncle who was a Korean War veteran. My dad was a Vietnam veteran. My brother served in the early 1980s. Possibly, I knew from the time I was knee-high-to-a grasshopper. My first grade teacher at Foot of Ten Elementary School – Miss Long – she had me write a letter to myself to be opened at a certain point in time. My mother held onto it, and the letter asked: What do you want to do? I want to be in the Army. And it asked where do you want to live: Wherever the Army sends me.

That’s all I ever wanted to do: to serve and retire, so ultimately, I achieved my childhood dream. Everything outside of that has been the icing on the cake and what better icing is there than helping veterans, giving back

Mirror: Any regrets?

McIntyre: It was a great career. Over a span of 11 years, I was probably in 40 different countries. I probably saw more in 11 years that what a lot of people see in a lifetime: At Mount Sinai, I walked the path that Moses took. I saw St. Catherine’s, the Pyramids, the Great Sphinx. I was stationed in Italy so I had to go down to Rome and see the Vatican. I used to go to Venice about once or twice a month. It was only 45 minutes away by train. I grew up on Blue Knob, but never slope skied until I went to Italy. I actually learned to slope ski on the Italian Alps.

Mirror: What about your military training?

McIntyre: I trained in so many different locations: Jordan, France, Belgium. I probably had more than 100 parachute jumps … In some places, I didn’t even stay for six months. There was a time period where we joked, for three years, that I never saw snow. Every year, like in October or November, I’d be sent over to a desert somewhere or a warm climate and I’d come back in April or May. I enjoyed it but the families didn’t.

Mirror: Did you experience combat?

McIntyre: My tour was in 2005-06, after everything had settled down, but I was in a decimated area. And I had a little stint down in South America too.

Mirror: How does your military experience help you with your job as the county veterans affairs director?

McIntyre: I’m dealing with the World War II, Korean, Vietnam, Cold War era, and being a history buff, I could spend an afternoon with any of them …. But in a way, it’s just like any other job. You have your great times and then you have other times. But every situation is different. Everybody’s circumstances are different. And I’ve got to follow the guidelines set down by federal law through the VA. So as long as I can file it legally, through the VA, by their guidelines, I’ll file any claim I can. That’s what I’m here to do, to help and assist.

Mirror: Does that mean you can help every veteran?

McIntyre: It doesn’t. Some veterans come in here looking only for help. Then you have the other ones who are disgruntled, feeling something should have went their way and it didn’t … and with the wounded warriors, you have to be able to tiptoe. But being a disabled veteran myself and suffering from some of the (physical) injuries like some of them have, I think I know where they’re coming from because I’ve had some of the problems they have and I’ve done some of the programs they’ve been through. So I can understand their frustrations with the system. I’ve been doing my own claims for going on four years and some of them are still out there and unsettled. So I can be compassionate with the ones I can’t help.