Our Staff Jim Bessel Lt. Col. (ret) Jim Bessel is a 1988 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and retired from the US Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel after serving for 21 years. Jim was an Instructor Weapon Systems Officer (IWSO) and retired as a Master Navigator with over 3,400 total flying hours, over 3,000 F-15E hours, and over 1,800 hours instructing in the F-15 Strike Eagle. Jim was born on Long Island and grew up in Freeport, NY. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy with a Bachelor’s degree in Astronautical Engineering. During his military career, Jim deployed twice in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. In 2007, Colonel Bessel returned to Seymour Johnson AFB and the 334th Fighting Eagles where he concluded his Air Force career in 2009 as an F-15E Instructor. Following his military service, Jim worked in the DC metro area as a defense contractor supporting the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office and the Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Special Programs Office. He also worked as a sub-contractor for Boeing working on the F-15SA program. With the completion of the Boeing contract, Jim joined the online merchant Amazon as an Operations Supervisor. While with Amazon, Jim helped open its one million square/foot Fulfillment Center in Fall River, MA. Jim and his wife Elizabeth live in Barrington and are the proud parents of Sarah, Maggie, Grace, and Jane. Meghan Connelly In March 2021, Meghan Connelly joined the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services as the Strategic Planning Policy & Communications Administrator. Meghan came to the Office of Veterans Services from the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging, where she served over five years leading their policy, communications and government affairs team. During her time at the Office of Health Aging, Meghan strengthened partnerships with community providers, implemented new - and enhanced current - programming for Rhode Island's older adults, adults living with disabilities, and family caregivers. She also helped guide initiatives through the legislative process, including successful restoration of funding to local senior centers, expanded mandatory reporting of elder abuse, and other important initiatives. In March 2020, Meghan was called upon to serve in an emergency response role during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was instrumental in launching programs offering food delivery, housing, violence prevention, vaccinations, and other services to keep all Rhode Islanders healthy and safe. Meghan's background in programs and services for older adults and their families has been and asset to the Office of Veterans Services, allowing expansion of relationships with Rhode Island's senior centers, Attorney General's Consumer Protection and Elder Abuse units, AARP Rhode Island, as well as ensuring we are offering all potential benefits options - such as state home care and family caregiver programs - when our clients come through our doors. Jacques Dextradeur II Jacques Dextradeur II joined the Office of Veterans Services in early-2022 in the position of Chief Veterans Services. Jacques brings years of benefits navigation, education and career training, along with direct counseling experience to Veterans and their families regarding VA benefits and related programs. Jacques also spent time working within state and local governments, providing skills allowing him to effect change across multiple administrations. Jacques served as a member of the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit out of Rhode Island, as a non-commissioned officer – rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Jacques is a combat Veteran, first deploying to Kosovo in the early 2000’s and then again in Baghdad in 2004 and 2005 during the Global War on Terror. During his time in Iraq, he served as primary liaison for the 1st CAV Division and then the 3rd Infantry Division to the Mayor of Baghdad, the Baghdad City Council, the Baghdad Provincial Governor and the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. Jacques’ contributions ensured the success of the 2005 Iraqi elections, and his actions helped to establish the Iraqi Provisional Council. He continued his military service through 2007 in the US Army Reserves. The leadership and problem-solving skills Jacques possesses are an asset to the Office of Veterans Services – he is continuing his commitment to serve his fellow Veterans and the common-good through his ceaseless endeavor to ensure Veterans and their families receive the benefits they’ve earned and deserve. Paul Murgo On July 1st, 2020, Paul Murgo was appointed the Interim Licensed Nursing Home Administrator at the Rhode Island Veterans Home. Mr. Murgo brings with him over 20 years of combined healthcare administration experience in both the public and private sector. His leadership has helped shape the disciplined safety practices that help to keep the residents safe and healthy. Paul has taken bold action to tackle unique challenges faced by those in long term care settings, especially given the additional risks faced by residents who are often older and medically fragile. Joanna Pallini In April 2022, Joanna Pallini joined the Office of Veterans Services as the Chief Human Services Policy and Systems Specialist. Joanna has years of experience working with Rhode Island families at the Department of Human Services, Department of Children, Youth and Families, and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals. Prior to state service, Joanna specialized in working with individuals with mental health and substance use disorders in the non-profit sector. With a long history of military service in her family, Joanna is passionate about treating Veterans and families with respect and building connections with providers in our community. Joanna has a bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College and a master’s degree in Psychology. Joanna spends her free time serving as a ministry leader at her church and enjoys hiking, singing, and spending time with family. Sarah Prak Sarah Prak joined the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services in July 2023 as the Chief of Program Development. Prior to state service, she served four active duty years in the United States Air Force. She was stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base located in Goldsboro, North Carolina and was assigned to the Force Support Squadron. During her time in service, she was deployed to Saudi Arabia and Niger, Africa. As a Veteran herself, Sarah feels passionate about helping fellow Veterans and their families discover all the resources that are available and ensures they have the support needed during their transition. She is also Rhode Island's Women's Veterans Coordinator who works to identify needs, resources and program development. Sarah has a bachelor’s degree in communications and psychology from the University of Rhode Island. During her spare time, she enjoys exploring new places, photography, reading and working out. Kasim J. Yarn On February 17, 2016, Governor Gina Raimondo appointed Kasim J. Yarn to the first Director of Veterans Affairs for the State of Rhode Island. Kasim is an active-duty naval officer who retired May 16, 2016, after 20 years of faithful service to our nation and joined the Raimondo administration the following day. While from Jackson, Mississippi, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy the day after graduating high school. His first duty station was in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, a time that began Kasim’s lifelong love affair with New England. While stationed at Naval Station Newport in 1995, the Navy selected Kasim to attend college and become an officer. That same year, he met his future wife, Rosaria, a native of Italy who grew up in Westerly, Rhode Island. Kasim decided to go to school in the New England area and chose Boston University. He graduated in 2000 and shortly thereafter married Rosaria. Kasim also received his commission as a naval officer that year and was deployed in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf area of operations. After his assignments at sea, Kasim became an instructor at the Surface Warfare Officers School at Naval Station Newport in 2004. While in Newport, Kasim earned a Master’s Degree in National Strategic Studies at the U.S. Naval War College in 2006. Beginning in July 2007, Kasim served on several deployments with the Navy’s Sixth and Fifth Fleets in increasing roles of responsibility and returned home to Rhode Island in July 2013 to become a faculty member at the Naval War College. Kasim and his family made Rhode Island their permanent home in 2004 and bought a house in North Kingstown in 2009. He and Rosaria have two children, Jonathan and Giovanna. All are die-hard Red Sox fans.