ALUMNI VETERAN PROFILE:

Joshua Dhanens makes sure vets get the help their country owes them

Joshua Dhanens portrait

Joshua Dhanens, a CSUB alum and Iraq War veteran, was recently appointed director of the Kern County Veterans Service Department. The agency helps vets and their dependents obtain benefits they are owed for their service.

BY CHRISTINE BEDELL
Alumni Engagement Specialist
cbedell1@csub.edu

There are older veterans living on just $500 to $600 a month who can double their income with a pension benefit. There are spouses and children of certain vets who can get help paying for a college education.

There are young veterans just home from a war zone who can call on a network of support, including help finding a job.

They all just need to know the assistance is available.

Spreading the word is a top priority of CSUB alum Joshua Dhanens, who was recently appointed director of the Kern County Veterans Service Department.

The agency’s main mission is to help Kern County’s 42,000 veterans and their dependents get the benefits they are owed. With a grant from Chevron, it’s also helping veterans gain employment.

Dhanens, 40, has worked at Veterans Service for six years and was groomed for the top job by his predecessor, Dick Taylor. He says he wants to build on Taylor’s successes but also has his own goals, such as better outreach to veterans on the west side of Kern and fostering relationships with colleges and universities that also serve former service members.

“It’s exciting to help people who didn’t know there were benefits available to them and it can literally change their lives for the good,” Dhanens said.

SERVICE AT HOME AND ABROAD

Dhanens was born in Porterville, grew up in Fresno and graduated from Clovis West High School in 1996.  He joined the Army right after high school.

Joshua Dhanens as sgt in Iraq

This photo of Sgt. Joshua Dhanens was taken Aug. 14, 2003, during a planning session for an operation he was going to be part of in Iraq.

Dhanens served as a military policeman at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and then Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing security for the commander of a NATO-led peacekeeping force deployed there after the Bosnian War.

When his active duty was up in 2001, he joined the California National Guard and eventually was deployed to Baqubah, Iraq, to help rebuild and retrain provincial police forces after the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein.

“We made sure the local citizenry knew we were police and not the military, even though we looked like them with our uniforms,” he recalled. “We lived in the police department, surrounded by Iraqis, dealt with them on a daily basis. I thought it was fantastic, it helped frame what we were doing there in a way most people didn’t view the war in Iraq.”

Dhanens was awarded the Purple Heart for an incident on Jan. 11, 2004, in which the vehicle he was driving got hit by an improvised explosive device. He was helping transport a “high-value target” from a police station to an internment camp. Two people were hurt; Dhanens suffered a broken tibia and some minor cuts.

He earned the Bronze Star for a variety of duties performed in Iraq.

Joshua Dhanens and crew in Iraq

Dhanens and a “crew” of United States military men and Iraqi policemen pose after a night mission.  The group would patrol at night in civilian vehicles looking for insurgents planting improvised explosive devices. They dressed in civilian clothes to blend in.

After concluding his service in 2005, Dhanens returned to Bakersfield where he’d lived before activation and where he’d met his now-wife, Angela. (They  have a daughter, Jayden, who attends UC Santa Barbara). He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from CSUB in 2007 and then a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma in 2010.

Dhanens again returned to Bakersfield and taught philosophy courses at CSUB before landing at Kern County Veterans Service in late 2012.

“Every veteran is entitled to apply for a variety of things,” he said of the work. “Education is a big one but there’s also health-care benefits.

“When I transitioned from service and didn’t have a job and was a student, knowing that I could go get health care for free at the VA was a big deal. A lot of times veterans aren’t thinking about those things.”

Dhanens worked as a veterans service representative for three years helping clients obtain their benefits. He was promoted to veterans service manager in 2015, where he supervised employees, managed grant funds, developed relationships with other veterans organizations and assisted with event planning.

MAKING THINGS HAPPEN

The Kern County Board of Supervisors appointed Dhanens as department director in September. But Taylor identified him as the right man for the job several years ago and has been grooming him.

Dick Taylor and Joshua Dhanens

Dhanens and former Kern County Veterans Service Department Director Dick Taylor, came out to CSUB Nov. 8 for a Veterans Day celebration on campus. Behind them is an Army Black Hawk helicopter flown in from Fresno for the event.

Taylor described Dhanens as humble about his service, enthusiastic, popular in the veterans community and the one who figured out how to implement his ideas. Taylor had lots of ideas.

“Many of the things I got kudos for very well may have been my brainchild, but Josh was the one who actually made them happen,” Taylor said.

Dhanens secured funds from the local Community Corrections Partnership to help recently incarcerated veterans with housing, employment and benefits after their release, he said. And Dhanens spearheaded creation of a position with existing money that helps veterans schedule and prepare for appointments.

Taylor said Dhanens is an up-and-coming star in county government.

“He will be one of those guys that someday you and I are going to say about, ‘We knew him way back when.”

HELPING VETS FIND A JOB

A big task ahead of Dhanens is creating a long-term sustainability plan for the Kern Patriot Partnership, which Veterans Service launched in 2015 with grants from Chevron that have so far totaled $655,000.

One facet involves recruiting local employers to give veterans a first look when they are preparing to hire. Another helps veterans polish their resumes, sharpen their interview skills and obtain the right clothes for an interview.

At last count, KPP has partnered with 179 employers and seen 262 veterans hired. Even vets with a dishonorable discharge or felony conviction can get help through the program.

 “They’re often the ones who don’t get any services,” Dhanens said.

The program very quickly exceeded initial expectations, said Robin Fleming, policy, government and public affairs representative for Chevron in Bakersfield.

“One of the things I know employers like about hiring veterans is they’re disciplined,” she said. “They are disciplined and they are very hard-working.”

The five Salters

Dhanens met his wife, Angela (middle), at CSUB and they  have a daughter, Jayden, who is a student at UC Santa Barbara.

Fleming says the same thing about Dhanens, whom she also knows through the Kern Leaders Academy, a local leadership development program. She’s a faculty member, he’s a graduate.

While it’s taken a number of people to make the Kern Patriot Partnership a success, Dhanens played an integral role in that and Fleming only sees it becoming more successful with him as agency director.

“Number one he’s a veteran. Number two he likes his community and he supports his fellow brothers and sisters in the military service. He wants to see them succeed.” 



HOW TO GET HELP

Are you a veteran needing the kind of help the Kern County Veterans Service Department provides? Here’s how to reach it:

By phone: 661-868-7300 or (866) 218-5367

Online: https://www.kerncounty.com/veterans

In person: 1120 Golden State Ave, Bakersfield, CA 93301 (You’ll want to make an appointment)