WARWICK, R.I. — When Rhode Island’s first veterans’ director started the job, he didn’t even have an office.
Kasim Yarn didn’t have an emblem to represent the office either. Many veterans’ departments and organizations have one, as a way for veterans to identify with them.
The state’s website for veterans was difficult to use and riddled with outdated, inaccurate information, said Yarn, who called the site an “abomination.”
Yarn is fixing these problems and others. He says he’s striving to be a voice for the state’s 72,000 veterans. He meets regularly with Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo to relay their concerns.
“One of the issues that veterans have had is access, the ability to get information, know where to go, and not have to call five different numbers only to get handed off five different times,” Yarn said. “I will never turn a veteran away, no matter how small something is.”
Raimondo appointed Yarn as the state’s first veterans’ director in February. He officially assumed the role in the spring after retiring from the Navy. Raimondo told veterans in August that she’s redoubling the state’s efforts to help them, particularly with job training.
Yarn opened an office in Warwick, near the train station so it’s easily accessible. Before, there was no central place to help veterans who needed something other than a nursing home or mortuary services, Yarn said.
Students from the Rhode Island School of Design designed an emblem, and are updating the website. The emblem depicts the state of Rhode Island as one in a pair of military dog tags on a chain. The revamped website is expected to roll out this month.
Yarn is planning to revive the newsletter that used to be mailed to share updates about veterans’ benefits in the state, particularly to target older veterans.
Veterans say Yarn is making a difference on their behalf.
“Now we’re at the forefront,” said Salvatore Capirchio, an Army veteran and the state adjutant for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Rhode Island. “We have someone to champion our cause and bring our complaints and our needs to the governor, and they’re being addressed.”
Capirchio pointed to Yarn’s efforts to help veterans who need transportation for medical appointments. Yarn is working to coordinate existing transportation services that different entities offer for veterans, raise awareness about the availability of those services and make them better.
He has met with veterans’ organizations, as well as leaders in nearly every municipality, to talk about how they can work together to help veterans. He’s encouraging municipalities to partner with his office and designate a veterans’ representative so all veterans will have a local point of contact.
Yarn is also working to provide more job training for veterans and reduce homelessness among veterans.
“Our veterans have waited too long for action,” he said.