Veterans Helping Veterans: Lake County service officer finds work rewarding
While in the U.S. Navy, Summer Padaoan worked as an alcohol and drug counselor. The 38-year-old Round Lake resident is out of the service now, but she still helps veterans in need through the Veterans Assistance Commission of Lake County.
A veterans service officer with the Gurnee-based group, Padaoan helps retired military personnel and their families apply for Veterans Affairs benefits, pensions, medical services, emergency financial assistance and other programs.
She finds the work rewarding.
"I can see the value and impact these benefits have on the lives of my fellow veterans and their families," Padaoan said.
Padaoan served in the Navy from 2001 to 2009, reaching the rank of petty officer first class. Initially stationed aboard the USS Mobile Bay, a guided-missile cruiser, she finished her service working ashore as a counselor in San Diego.
"My experience in the Navy absolutely gives me insight and understanding to the veterans and their families I serve," Padaoan said. "As a fellow veteran, no matter what era or branch of service, I am able to understand and relate to where that veteran is coming from. Whether they were reluctant to report injuries in service for fear of the stigma they may receive or hesitant to have anything to do with the VA, I can relate and empathize with where they are at and their perspective."
Padaoan's husband, Vince, served in the Navy from 2000 to 2018, retiring as a chief petty officer. She said that helps her relate to the many military spouses she encounters in her job.
Through the years, Padaoan has sought assistance from other service groups for herself and her husband. She's understandably proud of the work the Veterans Assistance Commission performs.
"I think what makes us different is that we take the time and work as a team to review the records and identify any potential claims for the veteran, provide feedback and work with them to build the strongest case possible," Padaoan explained. "Many veterans don't even realize all the potential claims they may be eligible for."
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