Recently appointed to the Colorado Board of Veterans Affairs by Gov. John Hickenlooper, Highlands Ranch Republican Rene Simard has been involved with military matters since 1978.
Simard said he applied for the position because “I thought it was time for me to get more actively involved in helping veterans and military personnel with some of the challenges they are going through.”
“I was both pleasantly surprised and honored to be appointed,” he said.
Simard, who served 28 years in the Air Force, including a three-year stint at the Pentagon, will begin serving his four-year term June 30.
Since retiring as the command chief master sergeant for Buckley Air Force Base in 2006, he has remained involved in veteran affairs through the Aurora Defense Council as well as through his position as director of academic advising at the Community College of Aurora, where he works with about 500 student veterans.
“When I was on active duty I was very much involved with enlisted issues, and I have seen a lot of the issues veterans are facing through my current job at CCA,” he said.
“Health care is probably the main issue, as far as disability claims and getting veterans their benefits,” he said. “The VA just seems to be overwhelmed with the amount of claims they have to process, especially with some of the current veterans they have coming back that have served four, five, six times in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Employment and education are the other top challenges Simard plans to focus on.
“I’ve seen estimates of anywhere from 11 to 20 percent when it comes to unemployment rates for vets,” he said. “It’s a major issue.
“As per education, they get very generous benefits with the GI Bill, and some of them are trying to balance work and family, and go to school full-time. It’s important that they complete those degrees and maximize their benefits.”
Simard just put his own GI Bill to use recently, earning a master’s degree in professional studies focused on organization and leadership from the University of Denver. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in logistics management from Peru State College, based in Nebraska, and an associate degree from the Community College of the Air Force, based in Alabama.
Simard spent 20 of his years in military service as a logistics planner for the Air Force. He was stationed in Germany for four years and in Saudi Arabia for three. Joining seven current or former officers on the board, he will be the only former enlistee on the governor’s advisory committee.