Pay It Forward

Shasta County Veterans Service Officer Wesley Tucker…

The soldier’s creed states, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” These words sit at the heart of the Shasta County Veterans Services Office, which helps veterans get connected to benefits they’ve earned through their service to our nation.

“I’m a strong believer that after my deployment and serving in the military, I felt very lucky to have come back as healthy as I did,” says Wesley Tucker, the county’s Veterans Services Officer since February 2023. “I feel it’s my job to pay it forward and help those who didn’t make it back as healthy.”

Tucker credits his staff for the life-changing work the office provides to local veterans. “Our team is making it happen,” he says. “Everybody here’s a veteran except our front desk staff, but they have strong family ties to vets and do anything they can for clients. They’re super driven to get things done, and they’ve been bending over backwards to help me be successful.”

Photos by Jessica Zettlemoyer

Many people who walk through their doors have service-connected disabilities. “Not only are they going to get a disability check, but they will also get free health care for the injuries and illnesses they incur from being in service,” Tucker says. The office also helps veterans access their education benefits, either for themselves or their dependents. “In California, if you’re a vet with any disability rating, the state will pay for your kids’ tuition,” he says.

Other services include helping veterans get disabled license plates, bus passes, copies of military records and letters for Veterans Affairs home loans (the VA and Veterans Services Office are not the same). A partnership with Nations Finest ensures that homeless veterans can have a place to sleep the night they’re referred, if they so choose. Some veterans were discharged from the military due to extreme hardship or severe PTSD, and the Veterans Services Office partners with law firms to help them get those discharges upgraded so they can access more services. “This gives them some cushion so they can work on their mental health until they can start going back to work,” Tucker says.

They also help veterans’ survivors. “We have widows who come in who are struggling and don’t realize there’s a survivors pension we can help them get, as long as their spouse served during a time of war,” Tucker says. “A veteran we served, who was a combat medic, was dealing with PTSD from his deployment. He came here and got an additional disability rating, and is now able to get the mental health services he needs from the VA and is able to continue to pursue his educational goals. Having that rating and having the ability to see a VA therapist was crucial to him.”

Tucker was raised in Shingletown and joined the U.S. Army in 2008. He deployed to Afghanistan three months after marrying his wife, Ayla. “Our first year of marriage was me in hostile territory,” Tucker says. “She’s been so key to my mental health and development. She pushed me to finish school and get my masters. I can attribute the success I have to having a very strong partner with a lot of grace and a lot of care for me being healthy and whole.” When his service took the couple to Germany, Tucker became a sergeant and non-commissioned officer in charge of communications. Ayla worked at a medical clinic and served many people who had traumatic brain injury from service in Afghanistan, so “she got to see the side of war that not a lot of people get a glimpse into,” he says.

Photos by Jessica Zettlemoyer

After leaving the Army in 2014, the couple returned to the North State, and Tucker brought his leadership experience to the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, where he managed a number of different programs during his nine years there, including privacy and security, asset management, fiscal, payroll and contracts. He has spent the past five years volunteering for the Redding Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1934, and has been post commander since February 2020.

Since he started as Veterans Services Officer, his team has worked hard to spread the word about the numerous services the office provides, and they’ve expanded in-person services to Burney and Anderson twice a month.

Tucker’s goal is for everyone they serve to leave with hope. “Hope is the thing I want people to feel the most, to feel that somebody is advocating for them. It’s like free legal representation to get them the benefits they deserve. Sometimes we’re the difference between someone being on the street and not being on the street. Without us, a lot of vets who need help can’t get it.”

And he’s proud to lead a mission-focused team with pride in their work. “This entire staff is amazing,” Tucker says of his team. “They all care so much about what they’re doing.”

It all goes back to the simple but profound soldier’s creed that guides their work. “I’m not going to leave anybody behind and neither is this team,” Tucker says. “A lot of people genuinely say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ but at the end of the day, the people who are going out and pulling people up are vets helping vets. It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood.”•

Shasta County Veterans Services Office
1855 Shasta St., Redding • (530) 225-5616
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30-11:30 am and 1-4 pm

Article written by:

Kerri Regan grew up in the North State and earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from San Francisco State University. A freelance writer and editor, Kerri enjoys exploring the North State with her husband and three children.

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