LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Veterans from World War I to Operation Iraqi Freedom have met the smiling face of Nancy Smith, a patient advocate with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Charles Wilson Outpatient Clinic in Lufkin.
"I definitely feel like this is a calling," Smith said.
In the past 18 years, Smith has seen improvements and bottlenecks in her job.
She's pleased younger vets are informed of services before their military exit. Even so, veterans always need help.
Richard Runnel, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, said that without people like Smith, veterans wouldn't know how to work the system.
"Once we get here, we wouldn't know where to go or how to work within the system," Runnels said.
Even though veterans are better informed today, there is a level of frustration that even a patient advocate can attest to, Smith said, adding she gets very frustrated at times.
"I don't think a lot of the rules are fair," Smith said.
A positive attitude gets results. Co-workers call Smith the angel of the Lufkin VA clinic.
"If she doesn't know the answer, she will find out," Teresa Maryska, a veterans employment representative. "She digs deep."
Sometimes there are disturbing discoveries. Dr. Anthony Zollo, chief medical officer at the Lufkin VA clinic, said returning vets deal with significantly higher rate of suicides.
"Returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have a significantly higher rate of depression, of substance abuse, of PTSD, and suicides than other veterans in other age groups," Zollo said.
Because she works so closely with the Lufkin VA clinic's patients, Smith often sees the first signs of anguish. She has a reputation for calling on psychiatrists for help.
"I am very well known for knocking on the psychiatrist's door and saying I've got somebody in need to see and you need to see now," Smith said.
This year, Smith has received numerous awards for her dedication.
"Thank you for your service and dedication," said Raymond Wilson of the Texas Veterans Commission as he presented Smith with the American Legion National Award Outstanding Employer of the Disabled for 2011, which was awarded back in August.
In return, Smith is grateful, but she knows her true award is when a veteran feels appreciated.
"I'm remembered every time I come in here," Earl Maxwell, a Korean War veteran said.