By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Kristen Lucier, Amesbury’s director of Veterans Services, has announced that she will be stepping down from her position next month to take a new job in the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lucier, who has worked in Amesbury for the past five years and is the region’s only female veterans agent, will be moving to a Boston-area VA branch to work as a social worker assisting homeless veterans. She said she got word of the opportunity earlier this week and couldn’t pass it up, but added that leaving is going to be bittersweet.
“It’s tough, Amesbury is such a close knit community and I really feel that the relationships that I’ve developed over the years, people are almost like family,” Lucier said. “The veterans that I’ve come to know, it’s kind of a given that I’ve seen some of their faces every week for the past five years, and it’s going to be hard when that’s no longer the case.”
Lucier’s last day will be Friday, Feb. 15, and Newburyport Veterans Services agent Kevin Hunt will be taking over for her on an interim basis until a permanent replacement can be found. In the meantime, Lucier said there would likely be some discussion over how the Veterans Service office will be set up in the future after she leaves.
“There are people coming together to try and figure out the best way to continue services while also paying attention to the fact that there are greater demands on these offices, with the wars ending and employment still at the rate that it is,” Lucier said. “I think they’re looking to ensure a smooth transition while preparing for future demands.”
Upon learning of her resignation, Mayor Thatcher Kezer heaped praise on Lucier and wished her the best in her future endeavors.
“The outstanding service Kristen has provided for Amesbury’s veterans was the benchmark for the state,” Kezer said. “She was a superstar for us and I’m sure she will be the same for the VA’s office.”
Over the years, Lucier spent her days connecting with Amesbury’s veterans and doing whatever she could to help them through the various issues they faced in life. She helped local veterans understand their benefit eligibility, assisted them in applying for their benefits and helped ensure that they were connected to the services and programs they needed.
She also actively coordinated with other city departments, like the Council on Aging and the library, to help produce educational and intergenerational military programs.
The part of the job she enjoyed the most, however, was getting to know the veterans and reaching out to their family members.
“That’s been a great pleasure,” Lucier said. “Doing the flags every year on Memorial Day with Holly Shay and her family and getting to know some of the people who have been touched by tragedies of war and seeing how they’ve moved forward while continuing to honor their memories.”
Lucier highlighted the deaths of Jordan Shay and Andrew Nicol, who both died in combat overseas, as two of the hardest periods in her tenure as Veterans Agent. In Shay’s case, she recounted how it wouldn’t stop raining the whole week they were planning his funeral, but the whole city came together and helped make it an incredibly beautiful tribute to his memory.
“It was a really, really tough time for Amesbury,” Lucier said. “But at the same time it was incredible to see how Amesbury pooled together to honor him and his family.”
Having had the chance to work with so many other people in town, Lucier said it was a great experience to work in Amesbury and have the chance to get to know all the other people who make the place tick.
“There’s a lot more to us than a tax rate,” Lucier said. “There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go in from these employees.”
Whoever does ultimately succeed Lucier will have access to a much nicer office than she did when she first started. Last summer, the Veterans Service office moved out of its closet-sized “dungeon” in 9 School Street to the brand new Nicholas Costello Transportation Center, where it now has at least four times as much space as before.
There is currently no timetable set to name a permanent replacement for Lucier.