Veterans' benefits office to aid Henrico vets
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.
With the federal government struggling to shake free of a self-inflicted morass as the backdrop, local officials unveiled a facility in Henrico County designed to allow veterans to better access their benefits.
Bearing gold-painted scissors Monday, a line of dignitaries cut a ceremonial ribbon to pieces, marking the official kickoff of the Henrico County Veterans’ Benefits Field Office, a joint effort of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and Henrico County.
The new office, which is in a county facility with county infrastructure, but staffed by a state employee, has been open since Sept. 9, with a steadily increasing flow of clients.
The federal Department of Veterans Affairs is heavily backlogged, and the move is intended to help ameliorate that problem for local veterans by running their benefits paperwork through state workers.
Veteran Walter Douglas, of Henrico, praised the office for aiding veterans.
“No question about it, that’s what it’s all about,” said Douglas, who spent two years on active duty and 28 years in the Army Reserve.
County Manager John A. Vithoulkas referred to the goal as “a convenient place in the veterans’ own community.”
State Sen. Walter A. Stosch, R-Henrico, one of the people behind the unique setup in Henrico, said society can “never fully repay” its debt to those who served, but that it should do its best by them. State Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, who represents the area in which the center is located, also attended.
American Legion Post 84 provided a color guard.
“I can really not think of a better way for our locality and state to honor and serve our veterans,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman David A. Kaechele.
The state has 36 agents like the one at the new Henrico office, though most work at state offices. There’s a movement afoot to split the cost with counties and double the number of agents, though for now the agent in Henrico is paid solely by the state, said Virginia Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Paul E. Galanti.
A push to get Virginia’s and other states’ benefits processing online will also help reduce the backlog at the federal level, he said.
While the veterans in attendance at the ceremony didn’t report any immediate disruption because of the government shutdown, at least one was keeping an eye on the situation.
“We’ll be involved if they cut back our retirement pay,” said Bob Galaspie of Chesterfield County, who served in the Army National Guard and then the Air Force, spending 20 years in the military and flying combat missions over Vietnam.