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the award. O’Neal’s enthusiasm in her work helped her to earn the title of “Employee of the Quarter” in October, which recognized her work throughout the months between June and September, before then receiving the “Employee of the Year” award. “When I looked over what was required for this award, I thought, ‘There’s a lot of people in my department that have excelled with this stuff,’ and I was surprised that they wouldn’t pick someone who had been here longer,” she explained. “I was told I was chosen for all that I had accomplished, especially how I go out and volunteer and do more things without worrying about being paid for doing all of those things.”
She continued, “I’m very humbled by [the award] because I know God blessed me with getting this and being chosen and nominated, and I give Him all the credit because I may do the work, but He is the one who keeps me going.”
O’Neal first joined the DVS in 2011, when the former manager encouraged her to apply for the position upon the manager’s departure. “I didn’t even know about the job until I came here and the lady that was working here told me that she would be going back to Atlanta, and that I should apply for position. So, I applied for it and had it by September,” she explained.
Since then, O’Neal has continued to work to assist veterans and their dependents with their compensation and pension claims, and widows with their widows’ pension claims. She also helps guide veterans and their families through the process of gaining state and federal benefits.
She had been prepared for the job through her education at Southeastern Technical College (STC), where she maintained a 4.0 grade-point average and graduated with a degree in Medical Office Specialization in 2009. “Tina Jernigan was my teacher, and she truly helped shape me [into who I needed to be for the job],” she remarked. “I learned so much during that time.” Her education made her work completing medical claims much easier, as she knew the field well.
Along with her work in the office, one of the events for which O’Neal has become most known is the Women Veterans Recognition Ceremony, which she first held in Vidalia in March 2022. Since then, the ceremony has spread throughout the state, reminding all women that their service is not overlooked or unappreciated. She is now planning an upcoming ceremony for female veterans in Hazlehurst, as well as a Vietnam War Certificate ceremony, which she has held previously in the area.
“I’ve done two [Vietnam War Certificate Ceremonies] here, and I’ve done three Veterans Parades in Lyons. I try to plan many different things,” she explains. “I try to do as many things as I can, so that the veterans know this office exists and that we are here to help.”
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service and her own time in the military, which earned O’Neal the award. “My dad, husband, son, brother, and myself are all veterans. We have every branch of the military covered,” she commented. “When I got out of the military, I really didn’t know about benefits or anything like that. They kind of just threw you out there and said, ‘Bye!’ All of these years, I didn’t know you could claim things or any of the opportunities until I moved to Georgia. It helped me to understand what a lot of veterans go through, especially the women.”
According to O’Neal, the best part about her job is getting to meet all of the veterans that come through her office. “Meeting so many different veterans from so many different branches of service, seeing their medals and all the things they did and accomplished, and hearing all of their stories is a big blessing,” she emphasized. “I’ve become friends with a lot of them.”
She reminisced about several events throughout the years that have been momentous, such as honoring World War II veterans during one of the Veterans Day Parades, acknowledging the women veterans, and others.
Rising to the rank of District Manager in August 2022, O’Neal now oversees five different city offices – located in Hinesville, Savannah, Glennville, St. Mary’s, and Brunswick, and manages 11 employees throughout those locations, which she regularly visits. Her Lyons office also serves veterans from Toombs, Jeff Davis, Telfair, and Montgomery Counties.
She said the Covid-19 pandemic has complicated the work of the local DVS, as the office is now open only by appointment, which has decreased the number of veterans seen per day from 9 to 4. “It’s not as many people seen per day, but having that set time to look things up and get to know more about each veteran has really been helpful,” O’Neal explained. “We have more privacy with this method, and I can really spend my time with each veteran and make sure everything gets done.”
Th eofficeiscurrently scheduling appointments and accepting any veterans who need guidance on their benefits. For more information on the office, or to schedule an appointment, call (912) 526-8860, or email O’Neal at [email protected] vs.state.ga.us.