BELMONT -- Warren Slocum smiled for the camera Wednesday in a small Belmont office. Moments later the former Army sergeant and San Mateo County supervisor was holding a new identification card, the first one issued by the county's Office of Veterans Services.
The ID cards are meant to provide the county's approximately 33,000 veterans with an easy way to verify their status when using county programs and taking advantage of merchant discounts. The county also wants to use the cards to introduce veterans to the many services and benefits that are available to them, whether they were discharged last month or, in Slocum's case, 43 years ago.
The card program is part of a broader effort to address the needs of veterans. The county has boosted staffing for veterans services. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to create a nine-member veterans commission to provide education and outreach and develop policy recommendations.
More than half of California's 58 counties have created ID cards in recent years, according to Ed Kiryczun, who helps oversee the county's Office of Veterans Services. Santa Clara County began issuing the cards last year.
"Being able to get one of these ID cards makes life a lot easier to get discounts and services," said James Guglielmoni, one of the first San Mateo County veterans to be issued a card Wednesday.
Guglielmoni, 45, is fully disabled. The former Air Force airman first class and South San Francisco resident suffered head and other injuries during training and while deployed abroad.
The Office of Veterans Services helps Guglielmoni take advantage of the various benefits to which he is entitled, including free college tuition for his 18-year-old daughter, a sophomore at San Jose State.
The agency also assists Guglielmoni in navigating the sometimes dizzying process of filing claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Bay Area veterans have been frustrated in recent years by long delays in obtaining benefits.
The veterans services team guides clients through the VA pipeline, making sure they have the right paperwork. The office says it helped veterans submit 655 claims to the VA in 2014, resulting in more than $2.7 million in retroactive payments and $244,000 in monthly benefits.
The agency hopes the new ID card will entice more veterans to visit the office and take advantage of myriad county, state and federal benefits. Veterans must have been honorably discharged to be eligible for the card.
The county also claims the card will help veterans take advantage of discounts that Lowe's, Home Depot and other retailers offer to members of the military. Effie Verducci, spokeswoman for the county Human Services Agency, said the county plans to reach out to area retailers to let them know about the card and encourage more merchants to offer special deals.
For San Mateo veteran Martin Bravo, the value of the identification is more symbolic than economic. Bravo served in Vietnam as a Navy petty officer second class. Public opposition to the war led many people to treat returning servicemen "shabbily," recalled Bravo, who is encouraged nowadays whenever he sees veterans honored and recognized.
"Just the acknowledgment -- that in itself is good enough," Bravo, 71, said of the card. "It's very heartening. It's good to be a part of it."
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.
Veterans ID card
For more information on San Mateo County's new ID card for veterans, call the Office of Veterans Service at 650-802-6598. The office is located at 400 Harbor Blvd. in Belmont.