Military groups seek to open veterans' services office
Kerrville Daily Times
Veterans comprise nearly 17 percent of the Kerr County population and contribute more than $50 million to the local economy, according to the Veterans Administration and figures presented Monday to the county commissions.
Despite their contribution to the community today and their past service to the nation, veterans continue to see dwindling services at the Kerrville Veterans Hospital and have few places to turn for help when seeking services through the VA. But that's something local veterans and a number of local veterans organizations are hoping Kerr County will correct.
Bill Cantrell, a Navy veteran, said it was 20 years after his service before he joined the AMVETS organization. He said until then, he hadn't realized that the occasional ringing in his ears was a service related disability, and he said his is a common story of veterans returning from war.
"We have a lot of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan that will be coming in to the VA, but a lot of them also won't be coming in," Cantrell said. "Many combat veterans are not really too eager to talk about their time in combat or around combat unless they are around other veterans who have been in combat."
Lee Burns also is a Navy veteran and a volunteer veterans services officer for the American Legion post in Kerrville. Burns said the county veterans services officer is a county employee authorized by the Texas local government code and is required in larger counties.
Smaller communities like Kerr County may opt to have a veterans services officer if the commissioners find it is a necessity in that county. Burns was joined by a standing room only crowd of veterans Monday at the courthouse in calling on Kerr County to make such a finding.
"As a veteran -- and I'm seeing a lot of veterans -- I'm telling you that it is a necessity," Burns said.
A veterans services officer would be a county employee who works with veterans filing claims with the Veterans Administration. The officer also would work with local veterans organizations, nursing homes and senior housing to identify veterans in the community.
According to national surveys, Kerr County's percentage of veterans is more than double the national average of about 6 percent.
Tami King is a retired veteran and the veterans services officer in Gillespie County. Like Kerr County, Gillespie County has a large veterans population, and she said without a full-time services officer, those veterans are being underserved and not getting the benefits they should be.
"It's not just veterans we're talking about. One of the things I've concentrated on in my county are the surviving spouses," King said.
The Kerrville Veterans Hospital had a full-time claims officer until last month when that person retired. Currently, a claims officer travels to the Kerrville campus once a week.
Veterans also can seek help from Allan Hill, a part-time volunteer services officer working with the VA hospital. However, Hill said because he is a volunteer, he cannot track claims through the VA system like a full-time county veterans services officer would.
Retired Marine Col. Vicki
Marsh is vice-commander of the Women Veterans Coalition formed earlier this year and said their
group also is concerned about the need for a veterans services officer because of the growing number of women who are veterans. Today, about 6 percent of Kerr County's veterans are women, but it is the fastest growing segment of the veteran population with 288,0000 women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marsh also noted that increasing enrollment at the Kerrville veterans hospital impacts funding for that facility and could contribute to keeping it open and providing adequate services.
"Locally we're concerned about diminishing services at Kerrville's VA Hospital and the lack of transparency in which it's done," Marsh said.
Kerr County Judge Pat Tinley, an Army veteran, said he supported creating a county veterans services officer, but he said with the county's budget for next year already approved, including funding for positions, it might be next year before the job could be filled.
"In order to be able to go forward on this, at least for the fiscal year 2012-13, we're going to have to go in and take a look at the budget and see if there are any amendments we can take," Tinley said.
Burns presented commissioners with a draft budget for the office based on King's budget in Gillespie County. The first year of operation would be nearly $50,000 with increases in the employee's salary based on certifications and training. That includes the employee salary, office expenses and training along with regular county benefits.
King said it could take up to five years to get from an entry level position to full accreditation with the Veterans Administration because of the training that is involved.
Commissioners authorized Tinley to begin working with Burns and the commanders of the local veterans groups to come up with a plan and to look at options for creating the position as a part-time position in this year's budget.
In other matters, commissioners:
--Approved the annual Courthouse Lighting Agreement with the Kerrville Christmas Lighting Corporation. The group will begin putting up lights in October, and the lighting ceremony will be Nov. 19.
--Gave approval for the Kerrville Economic Improvement Corporation to fund $150,000 for equipment at the Hill Country Youth Events Center for use by the Hill Country District Junior Livestock Show Association.
Accepted a certification of candidates and issued an order that the unopposed candidates be elected.
--Received an update from Shawna Fahrenthold with the Alamo Colleges Greater Kerrville Center concerning welding training at a building on the Kerrville -- Kerr County Airport. Fahrenthold reported that renovations began last week and training could start in three to four weeks.
--Approved relocating the Kerr County Constable Precinct 2 offices to the Sheriff's Annex building.
--Set a $50 fee for a copy of the budget. The budget also is available online for free.
--Waived rental fees and reserved portions for the Hill Country Youth Events Center for the third annual Kerrfest. The event will be moved next year from the second weekend in August to the third weekend in May.
--Voted to support the efforts of the city of Kerrville to suspend further development of the McCamey-Kendall-Gillespie power transmission line through Kerr County.
--Declared two courthouse Jeeps as surplus.
--Approved an addendum to the county agreement with CodeRED for a weather warning service. The additional service will not cost anything for the county.
--Approved an order that confirms that storm water from the Hill Country Youth Event Center show barn will not run into the wastewater system.
--Presented certificates to members of the Troop 60 Boy Scouts for their work on the Kerr County Historical Commission's marker restoration project, including one Eagle Scout who received his badge and was presented with an American flag that was flown over the courthouse in his honor.
--Approved changes to the Hill Country Youth Event Center show barn that will reduce cost by eliminating proposed skylights. Another change adds a Knox Box to the building that will allow firefighters access to the building when no one is there. Both changes reduce the budget for the project by about $4,000.
--Authorized the county maintenance supervisor to seek bids for electrical, plumbing, HVAC and pest control services.
--Declared a list of old equipment, parts and metal shelving as surplus and authorized the county staff to take those items to the recycle center in Center Point.
--Approved hiring an employee for the new maintenance position for next fiscal year after Oct. 1.
--Accepted the management and control of legal papers formerly belonging to the city of Center Point prior to the city's abolishment.