- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

WARWICK, R.I. (AP) - The first director of the state’s veterans’ affairs division said on Wednesday that his top priority is listening to veterans’ problems and finding solutions.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Wednesday she’s appointing U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kasim Yarn to lead the division. Raimondo introduced Yarn to lawmakers and veterans at the National Guard Family Assistance Center in Warwick.

Yarn, a Rhode Island resident, is currently a member of the faculty at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He’ll officially assume the director’s role this spring after retiring from the Navy.

Yarn, 43, said he’s grateful for the opportunity to serve Rhode Island and its veterans.

“Our commitment to serving veterans and their families must be unwavering,” he said.

Some veterans have said the state needs to do a better job of helping them get the benefits they’re entitled to. Yarn said he’ll work with veterans’ groups, businesses, schools and lawmakers to support vets.

Yarn grew up in Mississippi, joined the Navy in 1991 and deployed overseas on surface ships. He has been promoted several times and worked as a manager and operations planner in recent years.

Yarn has not led a veterans’ service organization or overseen the administering of veterans’ programs, though he said he has been an advocate for veterans both at work and as a volunteer.

As a naval officer, Yarn became well-versed in the programs and services available to veterans in Rhode Island to help his service members who were leaving the Navy, and worked closely with veterans’ organizations, according to state officials.

Raimondo said she’s confident Yarn is “up to the job.” Raimondo said she liked that Yarn is a combat veteran and a Rhode Islander, who shares her passion for making the state a place of opportunity. She said they’ve spoken at length about increasing outreach to veterans and helping young veterans, especially, with job training.

“He’s young and energetic and served his country,” she said. “I feel very lucky to have him on the team.”

Raimondo has proposed elevating the position to a cabinet-level post. The change needs legislative approval.

The director’s position was authorized in 2011 and funded by Raimondo last year.

Rhode Island is home to about 70,000 veterans.

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