CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Former House Speaker Rick Thompson used to spend his days figuring out how to move bills through the Legislature.
Now, as Secretary of Veterans Assistance, he just tries to make sure the bills are paid.
Thompson, who once presided over standing-room-only meetings with House leaders in his sizable Speaker office, spoke on Tuesday to the Legislature's Select Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
It was his first appearance before lawmakers since he left the House last month. The room was cold and quiet, and the seats for the public largely went unfilled at the late afternoon meeting. Some members of the committee, mostly the state senators, did not attend.
Thompson, however, was undeterred.
"My heart's in this job, so it's a very easy thing to do, to tell them about my department," he said after the meeting.
He said working as Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Cabinet Secretary for Veterans Assistance is more work than being Speaker of the House ... but the work is different.
Thompson has spent his first month on the job traveling to his agency's field offices and visiting veterans' hospitals around the state, the agency's nursing home in Clarksburg and its veterans' home in Barboursville.
He said he is trying to raise public awareness of the state Department of Veterans Assistance, both with the public and other agencies.
"I know a lot of people out there don't know what we do. They have no idea what our services are," he told committee members.
The agency has around 300 employees, but Thompson said his office in Charleston only has eight workers, including him.
Veterans Assistance has field offices scattered throughout the state, where representatives help veterans fighting for federal benefits. Field officers also help veterans receive educational benefits, and attend to smaller matters like obtaining a veterans' license plate.
"We'll do just about anything they ask us to do," Thompson said.
The agency also has social workers to help former soldiers in need of a job, or housing or emotional support.