BLAZING A NEW TRAIL: Iron Range woman wins national VA award

An Iron Ranger was honored by the VA for her work helping veterans across Minnesota.
Published: Aug. 14, 2023 at 10:11 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - An Iron Ranger was honored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for her work helping veterans across Minnesota.

Shelby Setnikar grew up on the Range, learning what hard work and grit is.

“Everybody in my family worked in the iron ore mines,” Setnikar said.

Her dad would wake up before dawn each morning to work in mines near Biwabik, Minnesota, wanting a better life for his daughter.

“You have to do- you gotta do better than this, I don’t want you to work when it’s 40 below at midnight, you gotta do better, you gotta do better,” she said, channeling her parents.

She wanted to blaze a new trail within her family, hoping to one day go to college.

After high school, she set out on that goal but quickly realized she would need financial help, so she turned to the military.

“Initially my job was a pharmacy technician,” she said. “Sometimes when you’re in the military you have a job title, you don’t do exactly that.”

Her service would help pay for her college tuition through the G.I. Bill, but it came at a cost.

The year was 1990, and Setnikar and her infantry were shipped to the Middle East to fight in the Gulf War.

“We were some of the very first people there so there really wasn’t anything there,” she said.

She was one of the very few women fighting on the ground too.

Setnikar said while living there, it was intense.

“I knew I was too close when they were firing from behind me the missiles fired over us for, I think it was probably about three days,” she said.

After spending seven months in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, she returned home to Minnesota, this time in the Twin Cities.

She went to school and became a Clinical Pharmacist with the Minneapolis VA, helping veterans with their medical care.

“Lots of interaction with veterans and helping them understand how to take their medications what to do, what not to do,” she said.

Daily interactions with veterans are one of her favorite parts about the job.

“[The veterans] know that I know, we have something in common,” Setnikar said.

Her work with veterans every day led her fellow colleagues to nominate her for the “Women Making the Difference” award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

She was one of 21 winners out of 394 nominated nationwide.

Setnikar received the award from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and the Secretary of the VA, Denis McDonough.

“It was quite an honor, really as a woman veteran, working a the VA I think that was the best honor I could have, I don’t know if there’s anything better,” she said.

Blazing a new trail, she said her family’s wishes have come true.

“Every generation wanted their kid to do better, so I think I’m living their dream,” she said.

Click here to download the Northern News Now app or our Northern News Now First Alert weather app.