Sarah Smith - Fellow

May 10, 2011
Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith - Fellow

Her grandfathers fought in World War II. Her father served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Her brother, husband, and four great uncles are all Navy veterans.

Growing up as the oldest of eight children in rural Green County, Pa., Smith did services of a different kind. From a young age, she helped feed, bathe and tutor her siblings. "It was like I was a leader in training," she says.

Smith wanted to build on her leadership skills in the military. As a 23-year-old mother of one, Smith enlisted in the Navy. "I was hell bent on going."

Five months after Smith was stationed on the USS Whidbey Island dock landing ship, the 9/11 attacks took place. Within a week of the attacks, Smith deployed to the Middle East and Mediterranean for seven months.

After returning stateside in the spring of 2002, Smith married a fellow sailor and had her second son. A back injury she had sustained in a training exercise kept Smith from reenlisting, so she returned to civilian life at the end of her four-year Navy contract. In the years that followed, Smith had three more children, earned a degree in office technology and worked a full-time pharmacy job.

Before long, Smith heard the call to service again. "I had a sense of pride, and I didn't want that to end," Smith says. So she went to work as a veteran's affairs director for the Pennsylvania County she lived in. The Wounded Warrior Program seemed like a logical next step and a "good change of pace."

As a fellow in the Uniontown, Pa. district office of Rep. Mark Critz, Smith has been dubbed "the VA girl" for her aggressive work on veterans' issues and efforts to learn about Veterans Administration services. She enjoys the "puzzle" of getting to the bottom of claims, and relishes the satisfaction of finding benefits for deserving veterans. Early in her tenure at Critz's office, Smith arranged for extensive health coverage for an ill Vietnam veteran. When the man learned of Smith's work, he cried. His wife sent Smith flowers.

"It's not about a paycheck," Smith says. "It's not about status. I can go to bed at night, and know I helped someone."