44, MARRIED, COHASSET
SECRETARY OF VETERANS' SERVICES
The only Patrick administration cabinet member on our list, Secretary Coleman Nee manages the state's comprehensive veterans' benefits system, aiding servicemen and women from the World War II generation all the way to recently returned veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under his watch, the number of homeless veterans in the state dropped by 21 percent in 2011, double the national average.
"But you won't hear him bragging. You know what's hot? Modesty," said one panelist.
Nee got his start working as a college intern for his hometown Congressman, South Boston's legendary Joe Moakley, before serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Gulf War. Once a Marine, always a Marine and when it comes to Nee's personal style, he describes it as "pragmatic, personable, and accessible."
Job title: Massachusetts secretary of veterans' services
Held since: January, 2010
Marital/relationship status; children; pets: Married (Karyn), 2 children (Jack & Kate)
Originally from: South Boston
What you do: Massachusetts has the oldest and most comprehensive veterans' benefits systems in the nation. The Department of Veterans' Services carries that legacy and is the primary advocate for veterans and their families in Massachusetts. We expend over $70 million per year on helping veterans and Gold Star families with financial, housing and medical assistance.
In addition to serving and assisting those veterans of the Greatest Generation, Vietnam and the Gulf War, we are intensely focused on increasing our outreach to help newer veterans navigate the system of services and benefits that are available to them. I spend most of my days in awe of the efforts of my staff as they accomplish this mission, and feel privileged to work with the greatest team of veterans-service professionals ever assembled.
One experience that made you glad to do this work: There are a lot of experiences I have had in this job that have touched me personally. Last winter we announced that, by better working and coordinating with our community-based partners and other state and federal agencies, we had reduced the number of homeless veterans in Massachusetts by 21 percent in 2011. This is almost double the national average. That was a very good day.
Other jobs: The greatest job I have ever had or will have is being a US Marine. However, there have been several interesting and rewarding stops along my career path. In college, I interned for Congressman Joe Moakley, working directly for his press secretary (and future Congressman) Jim McGovern. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I carry many lessons from both of those individuals with me today.
Other activities: Appalachian Mountain Club, American Legion Post 118, VFW Post 144, AMVETS Watertown, Fleet Reserve Association, Cohasset Democratic Town Committee, and founding member of the BMLI Hockey Club.
Path to Beacon Hill: After returning from Operation Desert Storm, I worked almost exclusively in the private sector for 15 years. However, I missed the feeling of working around veterans, and still volunteered with many veterans' efforts and initiatives. When the opportunity was presented to me to join DVS and professionalize my passion for veterans' issues, it was too good an opportunity to pass up, and too great an honor to turn down.
Personal style: Pragmatic, personable and accessible.
Favorite thing about working in the State House: Governor Deval Patrick, Lt. Governor Tim Murray, and Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby are all committed to fully serving veterans and military families, which has made a huge difference in our ability to get things done and implement change. Also, the legislators and their staff have been tremendous partners when it comes to advocating for veterans and their families, especially the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.
One thing you would change to make State House work more "beautiful": The State House has many beautiful memorials to the men that served our Commonwealth in uniform since its founding. Perhaps it's time we consider adding a memorial to Deborah Sampson of Sharon, who impersonated a man in order to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and was seriously wounded in combat — as well as to the thousands of proud women from Massachusetts who have served this nation in our Armed Forces with the same pride, distinction, and honor as their brothers-in-arms; in some cases laying down their lives for our freedom and way of life.