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Springfield hires former member of Coast Guard as new Veterans Services director

Joseph Decaro, deputy director for the Department of Veterans Services, and other veterans pay respects in front of the Vietnam Veterans' Monument during the Memorial Day Commemorative Ceremony Friday afternoon, May 27, 2022. DeCaro has been appointed city director of veterans services. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican/TNS)

When he served in the U.S. Coast Guard, Joseph DeCaro spent a lot of time saving people stranded in the waters off the Florida coast. In a new job, he is still rescuing people but in a different way.

DeCaro was promoted to director for the Department of Veterans Services in a unanimous vote of the City Council Monday, after multiple members praised him for his good work as deputy director.

He replaces Director Thomas M. Belton Sr., who retired recently after serving 13 years in the position.

Springfield mayor Domenic J. Sarno and deputy director for the Department of Veterans Services Joseph DeCaro carry the honorary wreath to the veterans’ monuments in Court Square Saturday morning, Nov. 11, 2023. (Hoang ‘Leon’ Nguyen / The Republican/TNS)

“Joe (DeCaro) is just a stand-up guy and a class act,” Councilor Lavar Click-Bruce said.

Councilor Kateri Walsh, whose late husband, Daniel M. Walsh, served as veterans director for 15 years before retiring in 2011, said she has full confidence that DeCaro will be able to follow the footsteps of directors who preceded him.

“You are very passionate and I think you will do a good job,” said Councilor Tracye Whitfield.

Every community in the state is required to have a veterans services director whose first priority is to ensure that income-eligible veterans or their spouses receive needed benefits that are provided by the city and the state through reimbursement.

But there is so much more. Essentially, DeCaro said he serves as a clearing house for veterans to connect them up with whatever services they need. That can be to help a 24-year-old who is just out of the service find a job or employment training, a homeless 50-year-old veteran who needs housing assistance or a 90-year-old veteran who needs health care services.

DeCaro, the father of three who served in the Coast Guard for nearly six years, said he never pictured himself in a desk job. When he left the military he first worked with the Westfield Department of Youth Services and went to school part-time. Later he worked for the Frito Lay company.

But then a job as investigator opened up in the veterans services department and he was hired in 2018. Two years later, he was promoted to deputy director.

“Seeing the assistance we can give people and the lives we can help, there is no bigger high you can get,” he said.

That assistance can be anything. For example, last week a veteran showed up needing information about using GI bill benefits so he could start taking college classes, he said.

DeCaro said he works closely with the local office of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs but also has a huge list of contacts with smaller agencies such as Suit Up Springfield, which provides suits and other professional clothing to help people who are job seeking, and No One Leaves, which helps people facing evictions.

He said he is comfortable that he and his employees are steering people in the right direction because few return for more help because they are getting the runaround instead of assistance.

“Our goal in this department is to be the first place for veterans to come and get help,” DeCaro said.

As director one of his first goals is to do more outreach since he said he believes some veterans don’t even know there is help available to them right in City Hall. He plans to attend neighborhood meetings and other community gatherings to spread the word.

Veterans and their spouses who need assistance can call the department at 413-787-6141 or stop into the office. DeCaro said he mostly works with people face-to-face especially because there is often paperwork that is easiest done in person.


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