County leaders officially opened the Bexar County Military Transition Center on Monday morning, coinciding with the observance of Veterans Day.
The center aims to work with active duty service members in the San Antonio area within six months of their separation from the military to facilitate a smooth transition to civilian life, Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) said.
“One of the difficulties we have is we start too late,” Wolff said at the opening ceremony Monday. “We want to make contact before they transition out.”
Three County military service officers have been working on staff for the past six months, and up to three more will be hired by the end of the year, Wolff said. Karen Rolirad, the newly appointed County military and veterans service officer, will be overseeing that hiring process, Wolff said.
Rolirad, now deputy director of the City’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, starts on Dec. 3 and is taking over the duties of former veterans services officer Queta Rodriguez, a change that generated controversy at a Commissioners Court meeting Friday.
Rodriguez stated Friday that she was ousted from her job in retaliation for challenging Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) in the Democratic primary. She argued that she had done her job well for the past five years, pointing out that the commissioners had consistently praised her work.
She applied for the new director position and was one of three finalists for the job, but withdrew from consideration. She said she withdrew because she did not think she could run for commissioner and start a new office so soon after.
The new, expanded military and veterans services office lacks experienced staff and will suffer without someone in the supervisory role to help veterans with filing claims and similar functions, Rodriguez told commissioners. She asked them to keep her in the supervisory role, which they ultimately did not consider. Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) suggested keeping Rodriguez on as a consultant. The other commissioners did not object, and Commissioner Wolff added it would be Rolirad’s decision.
At the opening of the new veterans center, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes) told reporters that he and the rest of the San Antonio delegation have been working with military leaders in the Pentagon to make sure veterans groups have been able to contact people on base getting ready to leave the military.
“One of the things that has been wild to me is that it has been difficult to allow veteran service organizations, or groups that want to help veterans leaving, to get them onto the base to talk to people,” Hurd said.
One of the officers on staff is currently stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Wolff said.
Although he is not a military veteran, Hurd said he struggled to translate his experience with the CIA into the private sector so he understands the challenges that veterans can face after leaving the military. Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman, commander of the 502 Air Base wing at Joint Base San Antonio, recalled her own father’s transition into civilian life.
“It was definitely an adjustment for him and our family in terms of self-identity and employment,” she said. “He had two daughters in college, a mortgage, car payments, and our country was in the middle of a recession. He eventually found employment but it took about six months, and that transition experience impacted us for the next 10 years.”
The Military Transition Center will help veteran and military families navigate their way to a new normal, Lenderman said.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the center would also help attract to the city more businesses looking for talent in the local workforce, since many service members remain in San Antonio after leaving the military.
“Everything starts with a job,” he said. “So we’ll be focusing on that here, to find that veteran a job, to get him into a training program if that’s what needs to be done or get his spouse a job. … Because if we can get them to stay in San Antonio, it helps us tremendously.”
The new center is located at 1422 E. Grayson St., right outside of Fort Sam Houston.