Meet Eagle County’s new assistant veterans service officer
Jacki Allen-Benson has lived in the county for 30 years, and served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War
Eagle County has a new assistant veterans service officer. Jacqueline (Jacki) Allen-Benson, a 30-year resident of Eagle County and a U.S. Marine who served in the Vietnam War, was approved by unanimous consent from the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday. She will serve her two-year appointed term through April 30, 2024.
In her new role, Allen-Benson will be responsible for helping connect veterans in the county to the many services and support systems that are available to them.
“I’m really anxious to help my fellow veterans,” Allen-Benson said. “Because I have that background, and I received veteran services myself, I know how challenging it can be to navigate the bureaucracy. When I saw that there was an opportunity that I maybe could help veterans get through some of that, I just jumped at the chance.”
After Allen-Benson enlisted in the Marine Corps, she was stationed in Quantico, Virginia, and worked in research and development on top secret weapons projects. She said that she found her way to the Marines through pure accident, when she saw a recruitment poster on the wall as she was in line to register for college.
Allen-Benson was the only woman on her research and development team, where she served with 14 men. She said that at the time she enlisted, she was unaware that women were allowed to join the Marine Corps. While her family’s reaction to her surprise decision was not positive at the outset, she said that her experience in the military was both challenging and gratifying.
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“My dad even called my congressman, because I had attended private school and was pretty sheltered, and he just had visions of how horrible it was going to be for me. But it turned out that it was not horrible,” Allen-Benson said. “It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Allen-Benson has a long history of public service in Colorado communities. She moved to the state in 1978 to pursue a degree in horticultural science under the G.I. Bill, after which she served as executive director of LIFTUP, working to provide people with equitable food security. After moving to Eagle County in 1992, Allen-Benson helped to start the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), which works to match volunteers ages 55 and older with local, part-time opportunities at nonprofit partner agencies and hospitals.
“I have had a really extra full life, and I love helping people, and veterans in particular,” Allen-Benson said. “When you’re in there, it’s more like a brotherhood, but when you get out, then it was rough, and I think that veterans now are finding the same thing. You’re such a close-knit family, and you have a very direct and significant purpose in your life, and then there you are — out in the world.”
In the three decades that she has lived here, Allen-Benson said she has not personally used many of the services, and that in learning the full landscape of available supports, she hopes to increase the number of veterans that are benefiting from Eagle County’s veteran services.
“I thought I knew a lot, and I knew, like, not even the tip of the iceberg,” Allen-Benson said. “So I think that there’s probably a lot of other veterans out there that could really benefit from the things that are offered through the Veterans Administration.”
Allen-Benson will be working closely with longtime Eagle County Veterans Service Officer Pat Hammon, who has been serving the veteran community for 12 years.
“I admired her for years,” Allen-Benson said. “One time I was having a problem with a medical bill that I had that I was just furious about, and I came to see Pat and she was able to help. She’s just such a wonderful person.”
To learn more about the veteran services that are available in Eagle County, contact Allen-Benson at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-328-8875, or Hammon at Pat.Hammon@eaglecounty.us and 970-328-9674.