26-year old George Leece is a U.S. Army Veteran. He served from 2013 to 2017, including one deployment to Afghanistan, but after his four-year contract was up, Leece wanted to earn his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He enrolled at UCSC and decided to put his experience in the military to good use as a veterans' advocate. Leece joined the Veterans Service Office (VSO) as an intern two years ago, and in that time, he has represented all veterans of all ages and all eras. (The VSO is a county office, and they facilitate between the county and the Veterans Administration.) For a young man with a deployment behind him and his whole life ahead of him, Leece is an interesting mix of youth, knowledge, experience and a desire to do the right thing.
Press Banner: 26 and a veteran? You seem kind of young to be in a position like this.
George Leece: Being a veteran myself, I've had to utilize some of these services, and I know how difficult it can be to not only learn about them, but to access these benefits.
PB: Are you steering veterans towards certain benefits that they might not have known about were it not for your assistance?
GL: I'm here to help facilitate their ability to access their benefits. I would describe myself as a liaison to the actual Veterans' Service Office, and I've come out into the more remote parts of the county (i.e., the San Lorenzo Valley) to assist local residents. It can be tough for some folks to come all the way downtown to meet with a representative, so I'm here to provide veterans in the more rural parts of the county with services that can connect them to the representative that connects them to the Veterans Administration. I'm the middle man between the veteran and the county; I provide them with information and help them through the process.
PB: What would an appointment with you look like?
GL: I would provide them with information and resources on things like accessing their benefits, and try to narrow down exactly how I can best help them. I would also follow up in a week or two to review the benefits that they're interested in, and connect them with a representative to help them file a claim, file for health care or a pension--whatever it is they need assistance with. Appointments are held on a walk-in basis, so each appointment is different based upon the needs of the individual. By connecting the veteran with a representative, it alleviates the need for them to travel downtown. I would expect appointments to last 10-20 minutes, but it really depends on what the veteran or dependent needs. If I can't find the right information, I'll make sure to get their contact info so I can follow up within a week.
Monday, February 3rd was Leece's first day on the job, and he was pretty excited to hang up his shingle at the SLV Sheriff's Office on Graham Hill Road in Felton.
GL: I've been preparing for this for the last month. We've got a banner outside, and I'm hoping to get the word out so more people know that I'm here. If they're interested in getting assistance, or don't want to go downtown, or lack the capability to travel, I'm ready to assist. Even if people don't know if they qualify for benefits, it's great to have the information; that way, when the time comes, you know what to look for, where to go, and what's available. If I don't have the right resources for someone, I'll gladly help point them in the right direction. We also have a website (https://www.scveterannetwork.org) that is a local, online directory for veterans and their dependents to navigate through the county to get in touch with representatives and local organizations that provide assistance. It's a great resource.
Veterans, you can find George in the San Lorenzo Valley:
1st Monday: 9am to 1pm Felton Sheriff Service Center
2nd Monday: 9am to 1pm Boulder Creek Sheriff Service Center
3rd Monday: 12pm to 4pm Felton Sheriff Service Center
4th Monday: 12pm to 4pm Boulder Creek Sheriff Service Center
Need more information? Send him an email at George.Leece@santacruzcounty.us.