AUBURN — Over the past 16 years, Brian Lamm built DeKalb County’s Veterans Service Office into one of the top performers in Indiana.
Travis Holcomb aims to keep up the high standards when he takes charge of the office Monday.
Holcomb said his goal is “making sure that the veterans that have been coming in here don’t see an interruption in the care they’ve been getting the last 16 years.”
He added, “To see what Brian has done here to grow the services in this county to the veterans, and specifically to that demographic of older veterans, who for years have not gotten the benefits — that’s really what motivated me was to come back home and try to provide those benefits to those veterans.”
Raised in eastern LaGrange County, Holcomb is newly retired from 25 years of active duty with the U.S. Army National Guard. He has been deployed to Iraq and stationed in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Angola. He served in combat arms and logistics with the infantry and in recruiting and retention.
Holcomb and his wife, Jennie, moved to DeKalb County six years ago. Their three children include two at home and one living in Colorado.
Now, having completed a 90-day internship with Lamm, Holcomb is ready to focus on serving DeKalb County’s veterans.
“He’s widely considered the most experienced and successful VSO in the state, so to have his 16 years of knowledge that I’ve been absorbing for the last three months” is valuable, Holcomb said about Lamm.
“A lot of veterans from my generation forward, we know lot more about our benefits because of information and technology. But a lot of the older veterans, specifically from Vietnam, Korea, and even back to World War II vets — they didn’t know about their benefits,” he said.
“You can sit down and talk to these veterans and go over their careers, and you can find a lot of different benefits,” especially in compensation and pension claims, Holcomb said.
“We’ve been lucky to have Travis here the last 90 days, so he can become well-versed in how to take care of our senior citizens in DeKalb County,” Lamm said.
Lamm had to learn the ropes himself when he became DeKalb County’s veterans service officer.
Lamm served 21 years in the U.S. Air Force as flight operations officer before moving to DeKalb County.
After his service, he worked for a local industry, then started his own trucking company and later an insurance company, eventually selling both businesses.
Lamm was studying to become a radiologist when he accepted a part-time job as DeKalb County’s veterans service officer. The job called for him to work only three hours per week.
“It became real apparent, real quick, that you can’t do this job in three hours a week,” Lamm recalled. He said a sympathetic board of county commissioners agreed to make him full-time.
With that, he said, “I decided that my passion’s going to be working with the veterans instead of being a radiologist.”
Lamm himself had visited his predecessor in the veterans service office. He said he was given a stack of papers to take home, fill out and send in.
“I didn’t go through near the hoops I should have to claim my own benefits, so the more I learned, the better I was at taking care of the veterans around here,” Lamm said.
Today, he said, “You walk in here, we do all the paperwork. You give us an autograph, and we send you on down the road and we submit the claims for you.” The office staff includes assistant Becky Marcum.
Applying for benefits could involve 10-30 forms, he said. Most older veterans would not follow through on their own, he learned.
“By us going ahead and processing all the claims and documents right here in the office, that’s going to ensure that these people are going to get the benefits they deserve,” Lamm said.
As a result, DeKalb County’s office ranks among the best in Indiana for the value of benefits it obtains — an average of about $26,000 per veteran.
When Lamm began, the office was bringing in about $200,000 a year in veterans’ benefits to DeKalb County, he said. Last year’s total reached $21.6 million.
In the year before Lamm arrived, the local office saw 126 people in the entire year. Lamm said the office now often meets with that many veterans in a single week.
Lamm takes pride in the DeKalb office ranking first in the state for submitting widows’ pension benefits.
“Travis and I both have become quite good at weeding through the VA paperwork” for widows, Lamm said.
“My soft spot is going to be the older veterans, to include the spouses. … Most of them don’t realize there are benefits available,” Lamm said.
Nearly 3,000 veterans live in DeKalb County, Lamm said. Because their spouses, children and even parents may qualify for benefits, the Veterans Service Office can affects some 10,000 county residents.
Holcomb not only is stepping into Lamm’s veterans service role. Holcomb and his wife are buying Lamm Glass Engraving & Gifts, a shop Lamm and his wife operate in downtown Auburn. They will rename the business Valor Engraving.
Lamm said he now plans do to some traveling in a motor home.
When he returns, he will continue operating Quiet Knight, a veterans charity he founded.
Quiet Knight serves veterans with a food bank, a warehouse supplying furniture, appliances and medical equipment, and temporary housing at the DeKalb County Veterans Shelter in Waterloo. Lamm said Quiet Knight soon will expand its services into an office in downtown Butler.
“I’m sure that’s going to keep me plenty busy around here,” he said.