California county may offer photo ID cards to vets

By BONNIE ESLINGER | Palo Alto Daily News | Published: August 3, 2014

San Mateo County plans to offer photo identification cards to veterans as part of a larger effort to further support them.

About 33,000 veterans live in the county, and although there's a range of government programs to help them, knowing what's available and how to access those services and benefits can be challenging, according to the county. This is a particular problem for veterans already struggling with such problems as homelessness, addictions, mental illness and unemployment.

Last year, the Board of Supervisors allocated $200,000 of Measure A sales tax revenue to develop and implement a "system of service" through a single office that makes it easier for veterans to get the assistance. It recently hired Applied Survey Research, a San Jose-based nonprofit, to study what county veterans need and how gaps in services could be filled. The contract, for $74,405, requires the organization to run its findings by a group of veterans' stakeholders; its recommendations are scheduled to go to the supervisors in November.

Meanwhile, the county is preparing to roll out an identification card program for veterans similar to one launched by Santa Clara County in June. The justifications for the card are three-fold, according to a county spokesperson.

The ID will eventually be used when accessing county services and getting help in filling out claims for federal benefits. Staff also plans to encourage local businesses to show their support by offering discounts to card-holding veterans.

"If we can get more of these veterans into our doors, that would be a great opportunity for us to see what services might be available," county Human Services Agency communications manager Effie Verducci said Thursday.

Verducci said such a card would be easier for vets to carry around than their "DD-214" papers -- forms issued upon a military service member's discharge from active duty.

The county has already purchased the hardware and materials to produce the cards, is working on the software, and hopes to have a soft-launch in the coming months before taking the program to prime time, Verducci said.

Ed Kiryczun, a former Marine who is working with the county's veterans services office, said he believes the identification program could help rally support for those who have served their country.

"I'm really excited about the program," Kiryczun said. "It will be an awesome thing to unite the community with the veterans."

San Mateo County currently has three full-time workers and one part-timer in its veterans services office, which filed 241 claims between July and December 2013 and facilitated approximately $2.8 millions in awards on behalf of veterans seeking assistance, according to the county manager's office.

Veteran Mark DePaula, who ran unsuccessfully for a Board of Supervisors seat in June, first became interested in political office after determining that vets were being underserved in the county.

DePaula said the county's veterans office staffing is inadequate and pointed to Santa Cruz County, which has four people serving a smaller population of 13,100 veterans.



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