A new director is at the helm of the St. Clair County Department of Veterans Affairs.
Chris Smith, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a former benefits counselor for the county veterans affairs office, was appointed new director on Dec. 10.
“He rose to the top during the selection process,” St. Clair County administrator Bill Kauffman said.
“What stood out was his leadership ability and experience, and also his connections within the veterans services community throughout, not only the state of Michigan, but the surrounding states as well.”
Smith will replace Deb Worden, who left her position with county veterans affairs in August.
Smith, 42, is a Marine Corps reservist. He is married with two children and lives in Buel Township.
Smith served three combat tours — Afghanistan, the horn of Africa and Iraq — and worked four years with the Wounded Warrior Regiment before being hired by the county as a benefits counselor in September.
He estimates there are 13,000 to 14,000 veterans in the county. Smith said he hopes to streamline the claims process, making it more efficient so veterans’ claims are completed quickly.
He also wants to ensure the veteran’s affair office offers a welcoming atmosphere.
“I believe it’s really the key thing to do — they have enough challenges and stresses throughout the day,” Smith said. “It’s rewarding — to be able to do something bigger than yourself is a blessing.”
Kauffman said the interview committee consisted of two members of the county administrative staffand a member of the veterans affairs committee.
“It is very important that you have someone who understands the needs of the veterans community,” Kauffman said.
“We believe he can bring strong leadership to a team that certainly is looking for that.”
Kevin Jones, vice chairman for the St. Clair County Veterans Affairs Committee, said the decision to hire Smith was unanimous.
“We selected Smith due to his outstanding leadership abilities and proven service in the United States Marine Corps,” Jones said, in a statement. “He has served as a benefits counselor for (St. Clair County) Department of Veterans Affairs Office, and he has the ability and the knowledge to work with veterans.”
Worden signed a separation agreement with the county Aug. 13. She has said officials gave her an ultimatum between termination and the agreement after a month-long investigation that stemmed from an employee complaint.
Kauffman was the interim director following Worden’s departure.