Alan Hill helps veterans get their benefits, and more

VSO Alan Hill, right, behind his desk at the Hill Country Veterans' Center, helps Navy veteran Gary Willson navigate the paperwork to file a claim to enroll in the Veterans Administration system.

Veterans' Service Officer Alan Hill says he works out of, and helps run, the Hill Country Veterans Center.

"The four veterans on the HCVC board own and operate the center," he says. "Richard Ferris is the owner of the Cowboy Steakhouse. Jack Scott is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America. Bill Brown is our executive director. And there's me. We're a 501(c)3."

The building they own was built as a National Guard armory in 1954, he says. When the transportation company stationed there was moved, the building stood empty until the government put it up for auction in 2012. The Veterans of Foreign Wars had the winning bid, and ran the building from 2012 to 2017. When HCVC was organized and chartered the Texas Hill Country Bank lent them the money to buy the building. "We had been operating in the black," Hill said, "so they decided to partner with us."

He says a lot goes on in the big armory. As a veterans' service officer, he helps veterans and their families navigate frustrating paperwork to file claims to get the Veterans Administration benefits they deserve. They can originate a new claim, or file an appeal on an existing claim. When a veteran dies, Hill says he can help the family make spouse claims or arrange for military burial, including a color guard; and a tombstone.

Hill says HCVC runs a food pantry, overseen by Hill's wife, Shirley, where veterans are more likely to ask aid from fellow veterans. A volunteer barber, Nye Nibblett, offers free haircuts to vets. "Endeavors," run by Gary Powers, helps homeless veterans find housing. They can provide vets with assistance in paying bills like phone and water. The center also has a museum, showcasing military artifacts.

He says they pick up donations of medical equipment, beds, wheelchairs, walkers, and so forth, and lend them to people who need them. That effort is coordinated with Dietert Center, which offers a similar service. "We take care of the big items," Hill says. "We have a crew to pick them up and a place to store them."

Besides veterans' activities, Hill says the center is available to rent, and several groups normally meet there weekly, from Hill Country Woodcarvers to a martial arts group.

Hill says he was born in Aurora, Ill., but only lived there five years as his family moved first to Arizona, then to California. He graduated from Barstow Union High School in 1963, then joined the Army. His first military occupational specialty was artillery, and he served with 175mm howitzers, including a Vietnam tour from 1967 to 1968. In 1970 he switched MOS into medical and dental jobs, serving as a flight medic for 45th Air Ambulance for three months, then was promoted to platoon sergeant with the 584th Ground Ambulance. He also served with the 518th Medical Detachment and the 56th Dental Detachment.

He says he was transferred to Fort Sam Houston in 1972. "In July of 1972 I walked into the company orderly room, and this really cute gal was the company clerk. I introduced myself to her, Shirley Adams, and took her out for hamburgers. We were married Sept. 1, 1973."

Hill says he left active duty in August of 1975, but served three more years with the reserves in the 321st Civil Affairs. Then both his father and his brother were injured, so he moved to Mississippi from 1978 to 1993. There he took up a third career, law enforcement.

"On July 4, 1989, a drunk driver hit my patrol car," he says. "It broke my neck. After I recovered, I went back to law enforcement for a while, but I found I couldn't look side to side fast enough. I went back to school for my nursing license, another career change. By then I had parents in Mississippi and California, and halfway between was San Antonio. But we decided we didn't want to raise our daughter in the city, so in June of 1993 I became a nurse at the Kerrville VA."

Hill says he worked at Kerrville VA until 1996, then took a position at Hilltop Village. In 2005, with a heart damaged by Agent Orange, he retired from nursing. He went through the training as a VSO, his current career, and worked at the Kerrville VA from 2007 to 2012. In 2013 he took his present position at HCVC.

He says his daughter is now Sarah Kocurek, and is married to Kris Kocurek, who works at Central Auto. They have the Hills' two granddaughters, who both attend Tivy High School. Emilie is a junior, and Kimberlie is a freshman.

On the wall of Hill's office, among the John Wayne memorabilia, hang two carved signs; "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part," and "Been there, done that, didn't like it." But he says he loves his current job, helping fellow veterans.

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