Russel Foster is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, who served for 23 years and took part in Desert Storm. He enlisted right out of high school when he was 17, and he was trained as an engineman – working as a diesel mechanic, on HVAC systems and hydraulics. He retired as a Naval Chief Petty Officer, E-7, in 2010.
The northeast Minneapolis native is the new Veterans Service Officer for Wilkin County. He previously worked as a national service officer with AMVETS (American Veterans) and with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of North Dakota, where he was responsible for veterans in the state as well as in 18 counties in northwest Minnesota.
Foster said his job with Wilkin County will be to help veterans file claims either for compensation or disability benefits, as well as benefits for their dependents, and pension benefits for their widows or widowers.
“There’s also a lot of state benefits, for those who are low-income, and others if you’re not low-income,” he said. “There are state benefits available as well, for higher education.”
Part of his responsibilities will be to bring the county Veterans Service Office into the 21st Century by becoming paperless.
“The VA has gone paperless so there’s no reason we shouldn’t go paperless as well. It allows us to maintain a little bit better security on files, and as we all know, things flood and things catch on fire.”
If a catastrophe did hit the building or the city, those files would be electronically stored and safe.
“Because of my background as a national service officer, I’m probably a little better versed in the federal appeals process, so veterans who have previously been denied, if they gave up on the system because of the VA backlog or other issues, I think I may have a better position to help them now than what was here before,” he said.
He noted former county VSO Ron Verhaagen, who retired, did a great job and he has big shoes to fill.
“We’re going to move forward. There are no new benefits, but the laws change all the time. Veterans who have been denied before may have a better chance now, because of the law, not because of who sits in this chair,” Foster said.
Although he’s only in his second week on the job, he’s already had several veterans come to his office for assistance and he intends to get out into the community and introduce himself.
“Everyone I have met has been very welcoming in the community,” he said. “I hope the word gets out that I’m here and I can help.”
Foster is married with two grown sons and lives north of Downer, Minnesota. He’s an outdoorsman who enjoys hunting, fishing and riding his Harley-Davidson Road King Classic. He’s also the president of the North Dakota chapter of the U.S. Military Vets Motorcycle Club.
Foster’s office is in the basement level of the Wilkin County Courthouse. He may be reached at 218-643-7134 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.