Volunteer Blazes New Path With Passion for Troops
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2007 – When it comes to connecting troops and
their families with services they deserve, Pat Kerr is in a league of
her own -- literally. |
As the only paid state veterans ombudsman in the nation, Kerr spends
her time battling bureaucracies, raising money and advocating for
servicemembers, their families and veterans in Missouri.
State Veterans Ombudsman Pat Kerr shows off a photo of her daughter,
Army Reserve Capt. Kate Numerick, who is serving her second tour in
Iraq. Photo by Fred W. Baker III '(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But folks shouldn’t let the salary fool them; Kerr’s passion for taking
care of troops began long before her tenure at the Missouri State
It started at home, right after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Kerr’s daughter, an Army Reserve officer, was deployed two weeks after
the war in Iraq started in March 2003. The care for the soldier’s
13-month-old son fell to Kerr. This came as Kerr was also caring for
her husband, who was dealing with serious medical issues.
Even though Kerr and her family members thought they was ready, Kerr said, they quickly realized they were not.
“She kind of looked like a deer in the headlights with her notice,”
Kerr said of her daughter. “Even though after 9/11 we sat as a family
and made a plan. We knew she would get deployed.
“We were shocked,” Kerr said.
Kerr’s husband is a pastor and a licensed professional counselor. Her
daughter is educated and working on her doctorate degree. Kerr was
trained on coping skills while dealing with her husband’s near fatal
injuries following a serious accident. With all of the education and
training in her family, Kerr said, she realized that if she had
difficulties, so would many others.
“We decided that if we, who had trained coping skills, … are a little
overwhelmed by what’s coming down the pike, what’s going to happen to
our Guard and reserve (members) who don’t have our professional
background,” Kerr said.
So, two weeks after her daughter left, Kerr began organizing events
like “Support Your Troops” at the state Capitol. Working nights as a
secretary and dipping into savings from her court reporting business,
Kerr paid for many of the expenses herself. The events drew thousands,
and state officials began looking to Kerr to help set up similar events
and soliciting her input on the development of troop-related programs.
Kerr also started advocating on behalf of troops who were stuck in the
gaps between the local, state and federal systems. At that time most of
problems troops were facing were not well known, she said.
“We started talking about the gaps in the system. And people would say ‘What gaps?’ So I would use real examples,” Kerr said.
“What about the guy who lost his eye in Ramadi?” she asked. “The
soldier has three children, and his wife wants to come back to Walter
Reed (Army Medical Center here) with him.
“Who’s going to pay for his child care seven days a week, 24 hours a
day? Even if they have it in savings, why should they have to pay for
it?” Kerr said.
Eventually Kerr was brought on board the state-run Missouri Veterans
Commission with the mission to raise awareness of the commission and to
identify gaps in the systems.
That led to the Missouri legislature, the governor, the Missouri
Veterans Commission, and the Missouri Association of Veterans
Organizations formalizing her position as state veterans ombudsman.
Since taking the post, Kerr has coordinated more than $600,000 for
servicemembers, families and veterans through private citizens,
corporations or veterans service organizations. Her efforts have kept
16 homes from being foreclosed on.
Kerr has helped a brain-injured soldier who was stuck in a hospital bed
for three months without his family. A clerical error made it
impossible for officials to locate his family, and his brain injury
kept him from helping. Kerr reunited him with his family, who was only
30 miles away. She worked with the family members to get the soldier’s
disability rating raised.
Kerr arranged services for a mother of four children -- three in
diapers -- who broke both of her arms while her husband was deployed–.
Kerr arranged for 24-hour care helping the mother with cooking,
cleaning, diaper changing and getting the children to school while she
There was also the Korean War prisoner of war who hadn’t received a
penny of the benefits coming to him. He didn’t even know he was
eligible until she began her outreach program and a family member asked
about his health care.
Kerr’s service has even rubbed off on her grandson, Abraham, 3.
While caring for her grandson as his mother served in Iraq, Abraham regularly accompanied Kerr to visit injured troops.
One day when planning to attend a movie, Abraham had 11 cents in his
hand. Kerr told him to put the money in his pocket, but instead he
offered it up as a donation. “He said, ‘No Grandma – you give this to
your injured troops,’” Kerr said.
“I was overwhelmed,” she added.
Kerr took the idea to the Missouri Veterans Commission and the
lieutenant governor and parlayed it into a school education campaign.
Dubbed “The Power of 11 Cents,” the program focuses on educating
children on patriotism and America. Kerr said she wanted to allow the
children to help support the troops but not focus the campaign on the
Originally started on Veterans Day, the program encourages younger
children to donate 11 cents and older students donate $1.11. Abraham’s
act of selflessness led to the creation of a statewide school outreach
program that Kerr hopes will raise $50,000 for the state military
family relief fund. Guard and reserve troops can apply for $1,000
grants from the fund.
Kerr’s daughter is now on her second tour to Iraq, and Kerr is again
caring for Abraham. Her personal experiences help Kerr empathize with
those she helps.
“I know these issues. I’ve lived these issues. I know what these families are talking about,” Kerr said.
Kerr’s daughter will have served two rotations in Iraq before her son
turns 5 years old. She has missed many of the firsts in a child’s life
that most mothers cherish. But, in spite of the sacrifices and the
inherent dangers, Kerr said she supports her daughter’s decision to
“I am extremely proud of her. I am extremely supportive of what her
commitment is to our country, and I am forever grateful,” Kerr said.
“Because I am not a brave person to go out and do what she is doing, I
can only do what I am doing."
As the list of those she helps gets longer, Kerr is quickly becoming in
demand across the nation. Even though her primary focus is on those
with residence in Missouri, Kerr said she fields calls from all over
the nation asking for help.
It’s a job Kerr describes as “way cool” and one she has no plans to
quit, even after her daughter comes home or the war is over.
“I am probably going to do this forever. This is not going to go away.
We are going to be dealing (with veterans issues) for my lifetime,”
“I’m going to support our troops. I’m going to teach our veterans and
reach out to the families of those who have injuries,” she said.
It is a higher calling that everyone and every community must answer if Americans are to live free, Kerr said.
“By relying on our citizen soldiers, … (supporting them) becomes a
great onus on the state and employers and schools and civic
organizations and churches,” Kerr said. “We have to work together as
the United States of America. We truly have to be united in order to
accomplish protecting the borders of America.”
Editors Note: While Kerr is the only state veterans ombudsman with a
state veterans commission, servicemembers and veterans can contact
veterans commissions in their home states to inquire about state
benefits by going to the Web site of the National Association of State
Directors of Veterans Affairs at http://www.nasdva.com/.
Military families can also avail themselves of the Defense Department's
America Supports You program, which highlights home front groups across
the nation that are providing a variety of services and support to
troops and their families. A listing of these groups and information
about their efforts is available at www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil.
|Military Connection's Comments:
An ombudsman is an official, usually appointed by the government who is charged with representing the public’s interests. Pat Kerr is the only paid state veteran ombudsman in the nation. She battles bureaucracy, raises money and is an advocate for servicemembers and their families and veterans in Missouri. Pat became involved with servicemembers before she became the ombudsman for the state of Missouri. Pat’s daughter is an Army Reserve Officer and was deployed two weeks after the war in Iraq started. While caring for her ailing husband, the care for her granddaughter became her responsibility. All the pressures Pat was feeling made her realize that some people do not have the necessary coping skills and she wanted to help. Pat started organizing events to support the troops. The rest is history.