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Justin Sellers / The Natchez Democrat — Erle Drane, who will be retiring in August from his position with Veterans Affairs, stands in the city council chamber Wednesday.
Justin Sellers / The Natchez Democrat — Erle Drane, who will be retiring in August from his position with Veterans Affairs, stands in the city council chamber Wednesday.

Retiring veteran’s services officer director pleased to help

Published 12:01am Thursday, July 18, 2013

NATCHEZ — He’s spent the last decade making a lot of phone calls and filing paperwork, but Adams County’s retiring Veteran’s Services Office Director Erle Drane says that — like the time he spent in the military beforehand — the work has been part of a higher calling.

Drane, 78, will be retiring from the position — which he took in 2002 — at the end of August. In the time that he’s been the director of the office, the amount of Veterans’ Affairs benefits that the county’s veterans have received has grown from $4 million annually to $20 million.

And while he’s not willing to take credit for that growth — the number of veterans just grew considerably, he said — Drane said he was happy to be of help to those who needed the benefits.

In fact, he said he saw his work as an extension of biblical love for others.

“It is kind of like saying, ‘Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend,’” Drane said. “I don’t mean that you have to go die, but to lay down your life is to take the life that you have and use it to accomplish things for others in some way that improves their lives.”

Sometimes, those gestures that seem small are actually quite meaningful to those on the relieving end, like making sure the widow of a veteran who did not have a military funeral receives a flag, he said.

Other times, it’s takes more work — years’ worth.

Drane said one veteran who will always stick with him came in seeking VA benefits but was denied on a basis of lack of evidence he was a veteran. The man had been drafted, sent to Fort Hood and then shipped to Vietnam, but his records were seemingly non-existent.

“He had been drafted here, but the paperwork never caught up with him,” Drane said.

For the next two years, Drane worked with the veteran to prove that he had served, using ephemera and even pictures of the veteran that could have only been taken in Vietnam to prove that he had served there.

In the end, after months of detective work to prove what they already knew, the veteran was able to get the benefits he needed.

Drane said he’s also glad that during his tenure he was able to arrange for veterans who need medical treatments to have transportation to Jackson when they need it through the Disabled American Veterans organization. That also took more than two years, multiple trips to the DAV office in northern Kentucky and arranging with the boards of supervisors for Adams, Franklin and Lincoln counties to make the co-pay needed to sponsor the van.

But in the end, it was worth it to be able to provide the transportation needed for those veterans who might not be able to afford — financially or health-wise — to make a trip to Jackson on their own, he said.

Adams County Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said he commended Drane for the help he has been able to extend to veterans and their families.

“He has dedicated himself to the veterans of this area and has worked very hard for them,” Grennell said.

And while Drane said the time he spent working for veterans is a calling, it’s more than that.

“It’s been a pleasure,” he said.

The board of supervisors accepted Drane’s retirement earlier this week in order to advertise for a replacement.