HAVERHILL — Luis Santiago, who has been serving as the city’s veterans’ services officer for more than a year, is leaving for a similar job in Billerica.
The Lawrence native had been hired by Mayor James Fiorentini in July 2020, replacing Amanda Buckley, who left the month prior when her husband’s Marine unit transferred their family to another base.
Santiago, 41, said he informed the mayor that he has been hired as director of veterans’ services for the town of Billerica. His last day in Haverhill will be Nov. 30.
“The difference is the job is part of a union, it offers more job security and also a higher rate of pay,” he said.
Fiorentini said he is looking for ways to fill in the gap and hopes to have an announcement shortly.
“Luis was an excellent VSO who was very active in the community,” the mayor said. “Representatives of two veterans groups told me what a great job he did. We are going to miss him.”
Santiago is bilingual and served in the Army from 2001 to 2005 as an infantryman in the Iraq War. A 2018 graduate of Northern Essex Community College, he holds a master’s degree in public affairs from Merrimack College.
He came to Haverhill after working as an intern in Lawrence’s veterans service office.
Santiago lives in Lawrence with his wife Johanna and their three daughters, Jeida, 18, Cassandra, 14, and Janniah, 12, and their son Anthony, 23.
Santiago said his biggest accomplishments in Haverhill include the relationship he’s made within the veteran community, serving all of the veterans who came to him for help with financial assistance through veterans Chapter 115 benefits, signing up for veteran health care benefits, helping them find housing and more.
“The two biggest issues for veterans in Haverhill is housing, employment and the financial resources they need to survive,” he said. “As VSO, you advocate and maximize connections to local, state and federal resources such as MassHealth, Medicare, VA claims, employment and education.
“Haverhill has one of the best veterans communities I’ve seen with the amount of love and support from all entities within the city,” he added. “Leaving this job is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. The love and support I’ve received from the city ... I feel that Haverhill has become my second home.”
As second vice president of the Massachusetts Veterans Services Officer Association, Santiago said he will be in a position to welcome Haverhill’s next VSO and offer that person whatever assistance they will need to succeed.
Marine veteran Ralph Basiliere, chairman of the city’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission, said the city is losing one of the most effective veterans services officers it has ever had.
“He’s accomplished a great deal and has rebuilt his office into a trusted destination for veterans who are in need of assistance,” Basiliere said. “When you consider his leadership on vaccination clinics for veterans, his service to the city literally saved the lives of veterans.”
Basiliere also praised Santiago for his role in helping to form the city’s first Warrior Support Task Force. In a very short time, the task force organized a free outdoor counseling clinic in Mill Brook Park for veterans who were in crisis following the death of Marine Sgt. Yohanny Rosario of Lawrence, who was killed by suicide bombers in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 26, during America’s withdrawal from the country.
“Local veterans were feeling angry and confused and Luis’ leadership in mentoring offered a safe place to begin dealing with their feelings,” Basiliere said.