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Vineyard Style Magazine: Community A Big Vineyard Salute Veterans' Agent for the County of Dukes County, Jo Ann Murphy
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COMMUNITY

A Big Vineyard Salute
Veterans' Agent for the County of Dukes County, Jo Ann Murphy

by Amelia Smith

As Veterans’ Agent for the County of Dukes County, Jo Ann Murphy helps veterans file claims, connect with services, and get additional help as needed. “Every case is different,” she says, with veterans on the Island who served in World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and more, along with active duty service members from the Island. Different groups of veterans have different needs. “In Vietnam, not everyone was in harm’s way, but in Iraq and Afghanistan, they all are,” she says.

In her thirteen years as Veterans’ Agent, Jo Ann has received numerous awards for her service, including an Outstanding Service Award from the state this fall. She keeps the plaques on the wall of her small but busy office along with her honorable discharges from the Army and the National Guard. Jo Ann was a Morse code intercept operator stationed in Thailand when Saigon fell, and was in the National Guard for six and a half years after she returned home.

Having experience in the armed forces is a requirement for her position, and it gives her some common ground with the many and varied people she works with. Jo Ann also serves as the Graves Officer for the town of Tisbury, and as such she’s responsible for the upkeep of veterans’ graves in the town’s cemeteries. She organizes parades and events honoring veterans at Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, the Fourth of July, and beyond. As part of the Military Funeral Committee, she attends many veteran’s funerals, whenever she’s invited. “We work closely with the funeral home. It’s important to the families that they get the honor they deserve for serving their country.”

The core of her work, though, is getting help for living veterans, whether it’s sending supplies to the Island’s active duty service members overseas, helping file disability claims, navigating the GI Bill for college education for veterans and their children, or helping needy veterans find housing or pay for winter heat. Some veterans are unaware of the benefits available to them, or are hesitant to claim those benefits. “It’s gotten busier in the last few years,” Jo Ann says. “People are getting older and need more help. Sometimes they wait until they’re desperate.”

That’s not a good thing, because sometimes it can take the US Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) years to process a claim, whether it’s for PTSD or physical disability.
Jo Ann recals that she drove one veteran in to get his Compensation and Pension exam. When he didn’t hear anything after a month, he gave up, far too soon. “I had one claim that went for four years,” she says, but the process is getting more efficient... slowly. “The state is fully paperless, everything is on line,” Jo Ann says. “With a state claim, you should have an answer within 48 hours. The VA is still working on it. The application is getting shorter but it’s still on paper. Things are going through much faster. If a claim gets denied, we appeal it,” she adds, noting that there’s “a couple of years’ backlog” for appeals.

She patiently pursues paperwork until the veterans get what they need. When the MV Hospital’s contract with the VA lapsed, she made arrangements for a VA doctor who was a medic in the service to come to the Island once a month. Jo Ann also manages the Veteran’s Grant Fund, which began with a donation from Am Vets over a decade ago. “Over the years, lots of island people have donated to the fund,” she says, including the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard, the Rotary Club, and many other organizations and individuals. All of the funds go to help veterans in need. Bain Capital recently donated ten wheelchairs to the Island veterans, and Jo Ann is getting them to veterans.

For people who want to help, Jo Ann urges them to research organizations before giving, choosing ones that channel most of their money to the causes they support. She recommends checking out charities through charitynavigator.org or the Attorney General’s office. She wants to be sure that the help goes to those who need it most, above and beyond her job description. “That’s why I’m here,” she says. “We want to help people.”