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EDINBURG — Last week officials announced that Hidalgo County Veterans Service Office Director Emilio de los Santos was recognized with the 2010 Dan Garcia Memorial Achievement Award from the Veterans County Service Officers Association of Texas for going beyond the call of duty to serve South Texas veterans and their families.

Only one such award is merited each year to a VSO who exhibits sustained superior performance, is actively involved in community affairs and patriotic activities and who is constantly educating themselves to improve the quality of life for veterans. De Los Santos was also recently appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the Selective Service System Local Board, meaning in the case of any future military draft, he would sit on a committee that determines whether a prospect would receive a deferment, postponement or exemption from service.

De los Santos served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era, and has been an advocate for veterans in Hidalgo County since 2002 after retiring as a school administrator from the Weslaco school district after 30 years of service. De Los Santos’s top priorities for the Hidalgo County Veterans Service Office have been aiding county veterans in preparing claims for compensation, hospitalization, insurance, pension, education, healthcare and other benefits entitled to them.

And the numbers speak volumes — from 2002 to 2009, total compensation to Hidalgo County veterans rose $41.1 million from $27 million to $68.1 million. De Los Santos has also been very active in intergovernmental affairs, including the fight to bring a full-fledged VA hospital to the Valley.

In a personalized support letter for De Los Santos, U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa wrote: “He has been proactive in his capacities and has been a positive influence for the lives of so many veterans and their families … He truly believes in building up the capacity of community to improve itself.”

Homer Gallegos, post commander of the McAllen VFW Post 8788 and past District 18 Commander, said it was a privilege to recommend his colleague for the award.

“Through his diligent efforts, the Hidalgo County (Veterans Service) Office has been able to see and help more veterans than before he was hired,” he said. “(De Los Santos) has become a front line leader by uniting many of the veteran organizations with the single focus of establishing a hospital for veterans in the Rio Grande Valley.”

De Los Santos said he felt privileged to be honored for doing a job that he loves.

“This is one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had the privilege to hold, to serve the people that have served our country,” De Los Santos said. “This award means a lot to me because it is from a veterans organization that knows the struggles of being an effective county veterans service officer. It’s just the thank you our hard-working office likes to hear as a reminder of the real impact we can make in peoples’ lives.”

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