BRADENTON -- Whenever Andy Huffman was contacted by a veteran or a veteran's widow with a problem, the Manatee County Veterans Service officer always called back to help.
No small thing.
"He's dependable," said Korean War veteran Skip Hannon.
"He cares," said retired U.S. Air Force veteran Bob Greene.
Such traits will make Huffman's many acquaintances miss him all the more. After four years in that vital job, he's stepping down.
Huffman suffered a serious leg injury in a pedestrian accident in June 2010 and, despite seven operations, he is in constant pain and still faces another procedure.
"I just need to take time off to get my health in order," said the 48-year-old U.S. Coast Guard veteran. "The job has always been rewarding and we've had endless support from the commissioners and administration, but I've got to make a life change."
Lee Washington, the senior veterans service officer, will succeed Huffman, whose last day is June 14.
"Andy ran this office very efficiently so there's no need to change it," said the 44-year-old former U.S. Marine. "Our
goal remains to reach as many veterans as we can and help as many as we can."
The veterans services division served 12,000 veterans last year -- 40,000 live in Manatee County -- and it is the middleman between them and the Veterans Administration.
"What we do is important, expediting claims and trying to stay on top of them as best we can," Huffman said. "Sometimes it's discouraging because of the length of time it takes for veterans to get their benefits. But we always encourage people to come see us."
Hannon vouched for it. "He's gone out of his way to help every veteran I've sent him," he said.
If they couldn't come to Huffman, he went to them. "We have a large veteran population with a great variety of problems and having a strong advocate willing to get into his car and do what needs to be done is significant," Greene said.
Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon agreed.
"Andy's the guy who always tries to find the resources that take veteran families from near poverty to a better quality of life," she said. "It's humbling to be around somebody who is that passionate about changing veterans lives."
Commission Chairman Larry Bustle can relate.
"That office is the last resort for veterans survivors having trouble accessing VA benefits," said the Vietnam War fighter pilot. "Andy did a great job with that."
"He'll be sorely missed," said Community Services Director Brenda Rogers.