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Shane Gustafson steps into role as new Beltrami County Veteran Services Officer

During the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, U.S. Army Veteran Robert Shane Gustafson became the new Veteran Services Officer. In addition to taking the oath of office, he and outgoing Veteran Services Officer Scotty Allison provided a report on operations at the county's veterans office.

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Incoming Veterans Service Officer Shane Gustafson, left, shakes hands with outgoing officer Scotty Allison on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, during a Beltrami County Board meeting. (Matthew Liedke / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- After several months of learning on the job, Robert Shane Gustafson officially took over as Beltrami County's Veterans Service Officer.

Gustafson took the oath of office during the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Oct. 19. The oath was read by Gustafson's predecessor, Scotty Allison, who signaled his intention to retire in 2020 and worked with county staff to develop a hiring and transition plan.

In early April, commissioners approved hiring Gustafson for the role, who had been one of 20 applicants. Gustafson started working in the office on April 22, with Allison still working in the lead capacity to assist in training.

Gustafson comes to the role after 13 years of working for the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office. Born in Minot, Gustafson was raised in Wyoming and entered the military after high school, serving in the U.S. Army from 1994-1999.

After his discharge, Gustafson attended a design school in Tempe, Ariz., to study computer graphics. However, Gustafson rejoined the Army in 2001 after 9/11 and served through 2004, which included a deployment to Iraq.

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Following his service, Gustafson earned a criminal justice degree at BSU and began working in law enforcement. In his new role, Gustafson will provide guidance and assistance to veterans and their family members regarding federal and state benefit programs.

"Thank you for this great opportunity," Gustafson said. "I'm really looking forward to this, to working with the veterans of our community."

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Shane Gustafson, left, is sworn in as the new Veterans Service Officer by outgoing officer Scotty Allison on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, during a Beltrami County Board meeting. (Matthew Liedke / Bemidji Pioneer)

Services report

Before the oath ceremony, Gustafson and Allison addressed the commissioners with an update on veteran statistics in the county. According to the report, there are 2,967 veterans living in Beltrami County.

The number of veterans in the county has declined over the last decade. In 2010, there were 3,435 veterans living in Beltrami County. Since 2018, though, the number has been consistently below 3,000.

RELATED: Bemidji Veterans Home groundbreaking signals the beginning of a new era for Northland vets

Just 20 of the 87 counties in Minnesota have a larger veteran population than Beltrami. In 2020, Beltrami County veterans received $36.18 million in support. The amount of support Beltrami County veterans have received has steadily increased from 2010-2020 by $15.9 million, or 44%.

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In 2010, veterans in the county received $20.2 million and in 2015 they received $30.06 million. The majority of the benefits supporting veterans go to compensation or pension purposes. Another large benefit is the support veterans receive for medical care.

In 2020, $19.7 million of the $36.18 million went toward compensation and pension services, while $15.3 million went to support medical needs. Other benefits to veterans include education and insurance.

In total, the Beltrami County Veterans Service Office has 990 active compensation files and 137 active veteran and widow pension files. The majority of those veterans, 487, served during peacetime, followed by 302 who served during the Vietnam War.

The county also has files for 119 who served during the Iraq war, 29 during the Gulf War, 27 during the War in Afghanistan, 14 during the Korean War and five during World War II. Additionally, the county has compensation files for six who served during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as one who served during the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

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