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VA director steps down after years of service

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    Hank Desrosiers

Published November 30. 2019 06:29AM

 

Henry Desrosiers is a man of service.

He has served this country honorably as a member of the U.S. Air Force for four years and then as a Naugatuck, Connecticut, police officer for 25 years.

He has served Carbon County’s veterans faithfully as the director of Veterans Affairs, helping them receive the benefits that they so rightly deserve.

He has served his community faithfully and his family lovingly.

But one thing Hank doesn’t like to do is talk about all he has done to make the world a little brighter for the 5,054 veterans who have asked for help through the Carbon County Veterans Affairs office over the last 11½ years.

“This is the part of the job that I dislike the most,” Desrosiers said, recently being honored for his years of service to the county and state. “I took this job to assist our veterans and their families.”

On Monday, Desrosiers will retire from his post, handing over the office to Christine LeClair, who was named his successor earlier this year.

“It’s bittersweet,” Desrosiers said of the retirement. “It was a difficult decision, but it’s time to slow down.”

Desrosiers was hired as the Veterans Affairs director on Feb. 4, 2008, after longtime director Charles McHugh Jr. passed away.

He said he was grateful for the people he met over the course of his career with Carbon County and for the things he and Bonnie Gawlik were able to accomplish for the county’s veterans after learning the ins and outs of benefits that are available to those who served our country.

It took quite awhile to get a system down on what his office needed to do to best support area veterans, Desrosiers said, but over the past decade, he has been able to surpass his goals.

In addition to the everyday operations of the office, Desrosiers and Gawlik have been able to bring in over $2.5 millions annually for area veterans and their spouses through VA compensation and pensions. Desrosiers has also networked with area organizations and schools, work to start the DAV medical van program in the county, started home visits to elderly veterans who couldn’t make it into the office and has overseen veteran mentors with veterans treatment court.

“We are a small county and we do have a high veterans population,” he said. “But we do fairly well.”

Desrosiers has served as the secretary, vice president and president of the Pennsylvania Association of County Directors of Veterans Affairs, was a member of the Veterans War Council, Veterans Commission, Gino Merli State Veterans Center Advisory Board and County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania Human Services Board; planned countless programs the county and was instrumental in collecting casket flags from area veterans to fly at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery.

Last month, he was honored by state Rep. Doyle Heffley and Congressman Dan Meuser for his years of service to not only Carbon County, but Pennsylvania and this nation during his military service.

During his time in the Air Force, he served honorably as a law enforcement specialist at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, 1971-73; Laughlin AFB, Del Rio, Texas, 1973-74; and Clark Air Base, Philippines, 1974-75. He assisted in the evacuation of South Vietnam in April 1975, and has received the Good Conduct Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

Desrosiers said that after he retires, he plans to spend more time with his wife, Catherine, and travel to Connecticut to spend time with their two granddaughters, Avery and Piper; as well as enjoy more time with their daughters Laura and Jaclyn and their families.

He also plans to remain active in the Jim Thorpe community, at the American Legion and will be helping the county when help is needed as a mentor for veterans treatment court and by getting information out for volunteer opportunities.

Desrosiers said that he is thankful for the time he has had as the director of Veterans Affairs and for the four commissioners — Wayne Nothstein, William O’Gurek, Charles Getz and Thomas J. Gerhard — who allowed him to do all he has done.

He recognized his wife for standing by his side and Gawlik for helping to lead the charge. He wished LeClair the best of luck as she settles into the new position.

 

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