Brian Bensen was stationed overseas with the Marines in 2006 when he received orders for Uniontown.
Bensen and his wife, Jennifer, both natives of the Philadelphia area, had never heard of Uniontown.
“I was in San Diego for training. My wife was in Okinawa, waiting for the assignment. I called and told her,’’ Bensen recalled. “She hung up and called me 15 minutes later. She had talked to her father, who had actually grown up in Point Marion. We didn’t know that. She called back and said, ‘I actually have roots there.’’’
Bensen, who became Fayette County Veterans Affairs director in August, spent 23 years in the Marines, retiring as a master sergeant in 2016. The Bensens live in Connellsville and have have two grown children.
Speaking of his wife and their decision to stay in Fayette County, Bensen commented, ““My wife is everything. She was always supportive through the 23 years — every place we’d ever gone, never a chirp, never a bad thing to say. Just support and ‘Alright, let’s go.’ This was no different. We figured we’d come here for a couple of years, do our duty and leave, and we fell in love with Fayette County.’’
While in the Marines, Bensen had assignments stateside as well as in Okinawa before coming to this area as a recruiter and supervisor, helping 300 to 400 men and women join the Marine.
Bensen’s office was responsible for recruiting Brandon Rumbaugh, a Uniontown veteran who lost both legs in an IED explosion in 2010 in Afghanistan. Since returning home, Rumbaugh has raised thousands of dollars for charity and called attention to veterans’ issues.
When Homes for Our Troops gave Rumbaugh a house, Bensen was asked to be a guest speaker.
Bensen replied, “‘Are you sure he and his family want me there? I don’t know if they blame me.’ To this day, me and him are best friends.’’
It was the ability to help others that led Bensen to his new position, a job that brings him full circle from serviceman to recruiter to helping veterans when they leave the military.
“I had an opportunity to do a lot of good things and give hope to those who didn’t have any. All of a sudden when you retire, you lose that platform,’’ said Bensen. “And I think right now - I’ve only been here two months - I finally have that platform again to make a difference in people’s lives.’’
Bensen gives credit to Madonna Nicklow, who retired this summer as VA director.
“This job has been made a lot easier for me to come into because of all the doors she’s opened and everything she’s done,’’ said Bensen. “She has made an impact on this county.’’
Bensen also credits veteran service officers Glenn Siple, who’s been in the office for more than 10 years, and Gregory Goldbach, who started about six months ago, as well as the county commissioners.
“The county has been very supportive. There’s nothing I ask for for these veterans that I’m told no. Having a county government so veteran supportive and patriotic just makes my job so much easier,’’ he said, adding, “It’s nice to have that — everybody pulling in the same direction.’’
Bensen has discovered support runs throughout Fayette County.
“Support for the military is just so old school and wonderful here,’’ he said. “Flags are out everywhere you go. It’s not just Veterans Day thing. It’s not just when an event happens to the country that unifies us. It’s all the time in Fayette County, not just when it’s convenient.’’
Fayette County’s VA office serves veterans and their families, seeing an average of five to 10 a day as it tries to connect those who qualify to such services as disability compensation, pensions, death and funeral benefits as well as transportation to Pittsburgh VA hospitals.
“My biggest fear is there’s a widow sitting on the top of the mountain right now that needs help and has no idea that I’m here or has no idea that she qualifies for help,’’ said Bensen.
For that reason, he works hard at getting the word out.
Bensen said, “There are so many great veterans around here. This job was made for me, I really feel it. I love people, and it’s a chance to make a difference again.’’
For more information, phone 724-430-1241 and 724-430-1299 for the medical shuttle.