A veteran helping veterans: Hector Moreno honored by state for helping disabled veterans find jobs, benefits

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Army veteran Hector Moreno, a disabled veteran’s outreach specialist, helps Army veteran Mark Young apply for jobs and benefits at the WorkOne office in the Doug Otto United Way building in Columbus, Ind., Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023.

A local man who goes out of his way to help veterans is one of only two honored by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development as their outstanding performers of 2023.

Hector Moreno’s title is Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program specialist at the Columbus WorkOne office. However, the 35-year-old says it’s his passion in life to help others when he can.

“Most people can just go on about their lives, but I can’t,” Moreno said. “I want to make sure I’m helping a disabled veteran do what’s necessary to find what is available to better themselves.

During the past year, Moreno worked with 97 veterans with significant barriers to employment and provided them with more than 700 services. Through this work, 29 veterans have gained employment. Currently, Moreno has a 22-person caseload with clients from Bartholomew, Decatur, Franklin, Jackson and Jennings counties, he said.

Benefits and services

Many veterans with employment challenges are unaware of the number of services available to them, Moreno said. For example, if they seek Veterans Administration compensation through disability, they may be eligible for Chapter 3 Vocational Rehabilitation benefits and services.

Under this program, there is no limit to the extent of financial assistance for job training a veteran can receive, Moreno said. With a monthly payment of $2,728 and $942.44 per month for subsistence, a family of three – two dependents and the veteran – could earn $3,670 per month while in the rehabilitation program full time, according to the WorkOne web site.

Few people know that Indiana is one of the few states that offers free in-state tuition for dependents of disabled veterans, Moreno said.

“I just recently helped a retired Army major receive free tuition for his daughter,” he stated. “I didn’t know about that benefit until I started working here.”

There is also the Veteran Readiness and Employment program. It assists qualified veterans with service-connected disabilities and an employment handicap to prepare to search for work, obtain a job and keep it.

Another benefit is the Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program, which provides employment and training services to assist in reintegrating homeless veterans into meaningful employment. This program also strives to provide effective services that address the many complex problems that result in some veterans becoming homeless.

If veterans don’t have funds to pay basic bills, they can apply for the Indiana’s Military Family Relief Fund. It can provide as much as $2,500 for food, housing, utilities, transportation and medical expenses.

At the end of many corporate job applications, you’ll see a question that asks if you are a protected veteran. If the answer is yes, you have a right to work in an environment free of discrimination. You cannot be denied employment, harassed, demoted, terminated, paid less or treated less favorably because of your veteran status, according to federal officials.

“These are programs I mention to veterans right off the bat, but most aren’t aware of them,” Moreno said. “While every county in Indiana has a Veterans Services Officer like Larry Garrity in Columbus, many don’t know that position exists as well. Larry is one of a number of experts on benefits and resources a veteran is eligible to receive.”

Moreno said if a deserving veteran needs help filling out paperwork, Garrity’s staff has been willing to assist them.

One extra step Moreno takes is being willing to take clients out to a restaurant or coffee shop to discuss potential benefits. Once they can start talking out of a formal setting, it helps create a more trusting relationship, he said.

But when a disabled vet finds out Moreno knows their problems first-hand, that’s when trusting relationships often turn into friendships, he said.

A history of compassion

Born in California and raised in Xenia, Ohio, Moreno joined the U.S. Army in 2007. His first assignment was as an explosive ordinance disposal technician in Iraq. But at the urging of his first wife, Moreno sought and received permission to train as an emergency medical technician.

While Moreno was not wounded in Iraq, he was in a military accident that caused a compression fracture to his lower vertebrae. It’s an injury that still causes him pain after 13 years. and will likely weaken his spine as he grows older, Moreno said.

“I think disabled veterans open up a lot more to me than they would to someone who may not understand what they’ve been through,” he said.

When he returned to the U.S., Moreno eventually trained to become a licensed practical nurse, and was assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Although he was discharged after spending 10 years in active duty, Moreno is still a member of the Army Reserves, where he continues to practice his nursing skills during monthly drills near Louisville, Kentucky.

The ‘toughest obstacles’

One of the toughest obstacles that Moreno faces in his WorkOne position can be summed up with one word: pride.

“I hear veteran say he or she doesn’t need the hope nor do they want it.” Moreno said.”Pride is a very big issue today.”

But when veterans say they want their benefits given to others need it more, Moreno reminds them nearly everyone had advantages that will help their career.

“I tell them that you need that benefit right now,” Moreno said. “I say the pot isn’t going to vanish because you took what you need. It will still be there for the next veteran.”

One of the goals of a disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program specialist is to restore a veteran’s feeling of stability. A sense of stability can be taken away by drugs, alcohol use, homelessness, incarceration and being a single parent with a low income, he said.

But in contrast, there are also overachievers who have risen high in the military that need assistance, Moreno said.

“You have a guy transitioning out of the military who has been in charge of so much,” Moreno said. “But when he gets out, he feels lost because he has to start a whole new career.”

Moreno says it’s part of his job to transfer that person’s military skills over to where it can benefit the civilian sector.

At a recent event at Camp Atterbury, retired U.S. Air Force two-star general Mark Pillar strongly emphasized that all the assistance provided to veterans are entitlements earned by their willingness to volunteer to serve their country and potentially put their lives on the line.

Moreno has lived in Columbus for about six years with his wife, Bartholomew County native Blair Schooler Moreno. They have three children: 13-year-old daughter, Rosalyne; 4-year-old daughter, Olivia; and a 3-year-old son, Braxton.

Veterans Day events on Saturday

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. – The C-119 “Flying Boxcar” at the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum will be open to the public for free tours. The Columbus Indiana Huey helicopter will also be on display. The museum, located at 4742 Ray Boll Boulevard, will have treats for veterans.

11 a.m. – Community Veterans Day Program, southwest of the county courthouse near the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans.

Where to learn more

Questions regarding veterans’ benefits can be addressed by contacting:

  • Hector Moreno at the Columbus WorkOne office, 1531 13th St., Columbus. Phone 8112-376-3331.
  • Bartholomew County Veteran Service Officer, 440 Third St., Suite 205, Columbus. Phone 812-379-1540