Bennett winds up military service career this week at Davison County Veterans Service Office

Colorado native helped build staff, expand service area

Davison County veterans service officer Craig Bennett stands in the lobby of the veterans service office on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — Craig Bennett has been with the Davison County Veterans Service Office for five years, but he and his staff have made a big impact in a relatively small amount of time.

The Colorado Springs, Colorado, native helped build the office staff and guided it through an expansion of additional duties across Sanborn, Jerauld and Hanson counties. He helped countless veterans in and around Mitchell tap into military benefits they had coming thanks to their dedicated service to their country in the military.

He can trace his time working in and with the military to 1978, but come Friday he will step back from his role as veterans service office for Davison County to spend more time with family.

“It just became time to say, all right, we need to go spend some more time with family,” Bennett, 62, told the Mitchell Republic recently.

It’s a fair decision for someone who has been in service to his country for 45 years, starting with a stint in the United States Navy out of high school. He spent 22 years in the service, working a variety of jobs, including boiler technician and recruiter, two roles he remembers fondly and which took him from California to Colorado and various points in between.


He retired from active military service in 2001 and worked for a time with a handful of technical schools in the Denver area before moving on to CHAMPVA, the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs. He worked with the organization for a time before eventually moving to his wife Susan’s home state of South Dakota to help care for her aging father.

He ended up in Mitchell working with the Sioux Falls VA, and he quickly became immersed in the world of helping area veterans.

“I drove back and forth from Sioux Falls for nine years and just again fell in love with helping veterans. Service has been an awesome part of my life,” Bennett said. “You couldn’t ask for a better job or a better life.”

Veteran service officers handle inquiries and applications regarding veterans’ health care, compensation, pension, long-term care and other benefits for veterans of all ages. Burial benefit assistance is provided to the survivors of veterans. These are all benefits granted veterans for their military service to their country, and Bennett and his staff work diligently to make sure those veterans know what they are eligible for and how to take advantage of the benefits they’ve earned.

Bennett said Davison County alone, with a population of around 20,000, has approximately 2,200 veterans among its residents. Part of his work at the veterans service office is promoting those benefits and helping veterans navigate what can sometimes be an intimidating amount of paperwork in order to receive benefits they may not have even been aware they were eligible for.

“A lot of them don’t think they’re eligible or deserve to receive benefits. I run into that every single day,” Bennett said. “A friend finally gets them to come into the office and we can explain to them that they are eligible like every other veteran. And that’s what we’re here for.”

Craig’s done an excellent job for veterans in the area, and we’ve had veterans tell us that since the day he started.
Randy Reider, chair, Davison County Commission

During his time with the office, Bennett has helped expand the office staff from one full time officer and a part-time employee to an officer and three employees, allowing it to handle a larger amount of service requests. The Davison County office branched out to serve veterans in Sanborn, Jerauld and Hanson counties as well.

Bennett deflects the praise he receives personally, giving the bulk of the credit to his staffers and the supportive public, but his leadership at the office has not gone unnoticed among the community.


“Craig’s done an excellent job for veterans in the area, and we’ve had veterans tell us that since the day he started,” said Randy Reider, a member of the Davison County Commission since 2013 and serves as its chair. “He serves whatever veterans ask for help. He said he has a passion for this and he really does.”

The expansion of services out of the office to neighboring counties has gone extremely well, Reider said.

Randy Reider
Submitted Photo

“Now our guys go to Sanborn or Jerauld county, and I get to all these courthouses and ask how things are going, and everybody has been super-pleased with the Davison County staff. It’s trending in the right direction.”

Reider said Bennett was interested in moving to more of a regional office style for the veterans service office. Many counties with smaller populations can have a difficult time keeping someone in the role full-time, and a centralized office for multiple counties can help bring important services to veterans in those counties.

Bennett said that made sense and opened the door to helping more veterans.

“I wanted to grow the service officer business and show that a regionalism effect can do a better job. When you have someone who does claims full-time every day, you’re able to catch more opportunities and reach out better to veterans,” Bennett said.

It doesn’t necessarily stop with those counties. Bennett said he’s worked with veterans from Georgia and Maryland. Sometimes a South Dakota veteran will move out of state but will still contact Bennett’s office for assistance. When they do, they’ll often bring up a veteran friend in their new state who could use some help.

That friend will, in turn, tell him that they also have a friend who could use some assistance. It has often snowballed from there.


“We work with hundreds of claims in a calendar year for all counties ... because of the referral network. We’ve helped vets from all over the state of South Dakota and the United States. I can say I’ve worked claims from Florida to Maryland to California to Washington State,” Bennett said.

His efforts to increase the Davison County office staff size also helped pave the way for his transition into retirement. The office is staffed by Bennett and three other full-time employees, including Courtney Ditter, TJ Thomas and Stephen Laughlin. All three are veterans and will absorb Bennett’s duties by committee moving forward.

The idea to expand the office staff came out of necessity but will continue to keep area veterans informed of their benefits as well as help them access them.

“When I got here, we would have maybe 25 claims pending. And in a year’s time it was 150. I needed help. The demand was exceedingly high,” Bennett said. “I couldn’t ask for three better folks.”

TJ Thomas
Submitted Photo

Bennett’s time at the Davison County Veterans Service Office will come to a close Friday, March 3, and the office plans to hold an open house throughout the day. He plans to remain in Mitchell while taking advantage of the extra time to travel with his wife Susan to visit family.

He departs feeling strongly that the Davison County Veterans Service Office is in good shape, with a solid staff that knows the business of making sure eligible veterans receive the benefits they earned during their time in the service. He knows the impact of the work they do there is important, and he knows his colleagues will continue to do everything they can to continue that work.

Supporting veterans is crucial work, and Bennett knows it. Those veterans have earned their benefits, and they deserve both recognition and praise for their service.

Everyone knows someone who has served, Bennett said.


“Like many, you may not have served, but you are removed only once or twice from someone who has,” Bennett said. “Every one of those people deserve to be recognized”

He encourages veterans who may not have considered potential benefits to give the office a call or to stop by and talk with a staffer. That’s what they’re there for, after all. And he’d love to visit with the area veterans he’s worked with — and those who may be visiting for the first time — before he steps back from his role as veterans service officer.

“If they need to call or come in, the door is always open and we’re ready to talk,” Bennett said. “Of course, we’re having the open house and I would love to see all of my vets again.”

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Retired longtime Mitchell physician guides young students, supports military veterans

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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