MOUNT VERNON — The third time might prove a charm for Trent Ansel. At the end of June, the Veterans Services director will be taking the third retirement of his career.
After three years of active duty in the Marine Corps, including 13 months in Vietnam, and a 24-year stint in the Army National Guard, Ansel retired with the rank of Command Sergeant Major. Concurrently, he worked for 30 years at Columbia Gas, from which he also retired.
But it’s hard to keep a people-person idle when there’s work to be done, so Ansel took on the job at the Knox County branch of the Veterans Services Administration in 2004 with goals of increasing funding, moving away from endless paper files to a more computerized office, getting more veterans to take advantage of the VSA’s services, and moving the operation to a more user-friendly location. Ansel said he is satisfied those goals have been met.
“I think we’re where we should be,” Ansel said. “Everything we’ve done is to better help and inform the veterans of Knox County.”
The numbers of veterans coming in for consultation has been increasing, Ansel said, and more improvements are coming. The VSA’s new offices at 411 Pittsburgh Ave. have been a big hit with veterans, and in addition to providing a more user-friendly venue, it also has the room for expanded services. September, for instance, will see the beginning of services to help not only veterans who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, but also group sessions for their entire families to meet with a counselor and discuss how PTSD affects the whole family. Ansel said that things are likewise on course for the local office to be able to review Veterans Administration files via computer by the end of the year.
The accolades were plentiful Friday night at a surprise retirement dinner held for Ansel in Mount Vernon. VSA Commissioner John Kaiser brought a proclamation from the governor, while Tim Lang read an appreciative statement from Rep. Zack Space. Knox County Court of Common Please Judge Otho Eyster, who appointed Ansel, praised the man’s work, noting that since the appointment in 2004, he has not received a single letter of complaint about Ansel, a rare distinction in such a demanding job.
But Ansel was eager to point out his staff, the Veterans Services commissioners and drivers.
“They’ve all made me look good,” Ansel said. He said that incoming director Kevin Henthorn will do a great job, and he will have a good staff to support him, including Dave Webster, Melissa Wheeler and Nicole Young. The moving plaudits of friends and family testified to Ansel’s dedication to helping others.
For Ansel, it is all part of his duty.
“It really tugs at the heart strings,” Ansel said. “With age you put more emphasis on yourself to help the veterans who are the ones who have made it possible for us to be here. As long as there are veterans, there has to be someone to take care of them.”
To that end, even though Ansel and his wife, Janet, are planning on heading to Florida in July, he already has plans on volunteering at the VFW and VSA in Florida to help veterans file claims. That, along with seven children and 21 grandchildren, ensures that Ansel won’t have to worry about finding something to do. He’ll always be there, prepared to help.
“It’s not about me,” Ansel said, “It’s about us.”