Tells, key phrases, words or thoughts a person uses as they relate to the topic of the interview, say a lot.
So, when Midland native, Midland High School graduate, and Iraqi theater veteran Rory Pettipas says his decision to accept the job as director of the Veterans Services Office in Midland County
last October allowed him to “serve again,” and that being selected for the Military Funeral Honors Team in Michigan was a highlight of his military service and that it is a “privilege” now to “serve” fellow Midland County veterans, one gets the impression that service is at his core.
He became a Calvary scout in 2006 with the Michigan National Guard
out of the Midland Armory and trained at Fort Knox from June to October that year. His unit, Alpha Troop, 1/126th
Cavalry Regiment, out of Cadillac, Michigan, was deployed to Iraq in 2008 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Pettipas served as a gun truck crew member in an M1117 Guardian (Armored Security Vehicle) doing convoy security and escort for sustainment convoys throughout Eastern Iraq from Baghdad to Kuwait where the unit was headquartered. During the nine months he spent there, he policed 174 convoy missions and several security missions. Subsequently he stayed with the unit at Camp Shelby, MS, until it deactivated in 2016.
Pettipas is a graduate of CMU.
Using veterans benefits at Central Michigan University, he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Administration & Community Development with a double minor in Law and Economics in 2019.
He learned of the position here in 2022 when Ross Ahlich announced his retirement and “jumped at the chance to serve again, this time in my own back yard. After 8 months in this position I absolutely love it and am so glad I put in the hard work at CMU and in the military to get me ready for this role.”
In an interview and in submitted questions, Pettipas talks about what help he provides to veterans.
Q: You came to the job after Aldrich left last year (October), so tell us what you bring that can help local veterans navigate all the programs available?
A. I believe, when talking with Ross before he retired, that we both saw eye to eye on the best practices to help Midland County’s veteran community. And, like most veterans I know, we aren’t very accepting of change, especially when it seems convoluted or unwarranted. I am striving to maintain Ross’ level of service to veterans who come to our office for help with VA claims or needs that can be handled locally.
Q. You see veterans of all ages and their families come through this office. What types of questions are asked most across the generations?
A: Most reoccurring needs seem to revolve around the PACT ACT of 2022 (new legislation involving disability claims), hearing loss and lots of cases of elderly veterans or their spouses needing the Veteran Administration’s Aid & Attendance program.
Q. Are recent retirees more able to handle the online focus today than those who became veterans, say, during Vietnam or Korea, since their jobs more predominantly use computers and mobile phones?
A: There is a very big disconnect between many Vietnam era veterans and the online services the VA offers. Our younger veterans, such as those who served in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and later had to acclimate to computer use so they tend to be able to interface with the VA services online better. But, it would be so much easier if the VA could help older veterans access their cases or benefit letters, etc., online instead of having the undue stress and confusion on where to access those things.
Pettipas is an Iraqi theater veteran.
Q. You grew up in Midland so a lot of the people you help are more than fellow vets, they might be family or neighbors or friends. Does this make your job more meaningful?
A: My job is meaningful beyond measure; my purpose to get the education I received was directly related to doing this job - helping veterans. But to answer your question, I look forward to seeing people I served with locally in the National Guard and other veterans I went to school with or grew up around in my office taking care of them and getting the care and compensation they earned.
Q: Vets tend to be more solitary because they have different experiences from civilians. Is there a wall you have to break through on some who tend not to seek the help they sometimes need?
A: In most cases, those veterans already have a victory by making an appointment and/or coming into my office. I thank everyone I meet here and tell them I appreciate them coming to see me. They don’t have to, but they chose to and it is a privilege to serve them. Some deeper issues may come out further in the appointment and I do my utmost to handle them with care and respect, as I too have my own VA connection and deal with personal issues as well that relate to my own service.
Q: There is a lot of misinformation on social media, and in the news media also, on what is occurring in Washington concerning VA benefits and other programs relating to their family’s well-being? What is your best advice to help veterans stay positive?
A: The news relating to benefits is greatly sensationalized and it is hard to trust it. I am in local government, but I am also a fellow veteran and my job is to help them, not the VA or any other agency. Asking someone who has first-hand knowledge of what is going on is imperative.
Q. How do you convince those you serve to keep up to date on legislation that affects them?
A: My best advice would be to go through a Veterans Service Officer like myself or Bruce Lee Hernandez, who is also in the Midland County office. He and I are trained to figure out all of that information and assist in what would be best for the veteran. Bruce Lee is a 5-year veteran in this office and he is very good at listening to the needs of the veteran and matching those to the appropriate benefit. I lean on him a lot when it comes to new cases that I haven’t had come across my desk yet.
Q: What is the best way to get in touch with veterans’ programs? You, VA, Legion, online, or all of the above?
A: Our office should be your first call. (Bruce Lee Hernandez,(989) 832-6642; Rory Pettipas. (989) 832-6843. I would also supplement that with your own research, but limit that to actual clinical study websites or the VA and sometimes law offices that deal with veteran claims can be very good research material as well. Some cases do require a lot of research in order to make a good case to the VA in a compensation claim!
Q: How can veterans volunteer locally?
A: I would urge them to join a local veteran’s service organization like the VFW
, American Legion
, their auxiliaries and so on. There are a vast number of organizations that do amazing things for veterans. I can’t speak on it enough; the wonderful, kind-hearted people out there who still serve in this very important way and that is another reason why I absolutely love this job!