Jan. 30, 2019 — Leadership from Florence-area veterans’ groups met with Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich and Lane County Veterans Services (LCVS) Program Supervisor Joseph Reiley last week at the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 23 headquarters in Florence.
Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3232, DAV, American Legion Post 59 and the informal coalition of vets known as the of “Band of Brothers” all participated in a discussion of the needs of area veterans, in regard to the county’s Veterans Service Officer program.
Bozievich and Reiley were here to respond to requests from the veterans for an increase in the time that a Veterans Service Officer (VSO), provided by Lane County Veterans Services, would spend in Florence to assist veterans with claims and other matters related to previous military service.
There were also concerns expressed by the vets that the current location of the intake interviews was not adequate for the meetings between the VSOs and those needing assistance.
Bozievich began the meeting with a brief disclaimer, citing the need for the county commission to approve the additional funding needed to increase the hours a VSO could spend in Florence. However, he assured those in attendance he would take their concerns to the commission.
“I can advocate with the director of the Health and Human Services Department and I can advocate with the county administrator, and they can look into it and see if there is any possibility, or see what the resources are,” he said. “To actually direct a change and have the budget to cover that change, is probably going to take a vote of the full board.”
Paul Gargis and Jerry Hernandez are very active in veterans-related issues of all types. They initiated the letter-writing effort that prompted Bozievich and Reiley’s visit.
The situation is clear cut to the two Florence representatives, who said they felt the county should provide additional support for veterans in this area.
“We have a great number of veterans living here and there is only one VSO, once a week. This makes it very hard for a veteran or veteran’s spouse to file a claim. In a lot of cases they simply quit trying. To file a claim here in Florence, a veteran has to get up by 5 a.m. or earlier, to go to a small office and hopefully be the first one there. … Sometimes, the VSO office is closed, leaving no prior notice,” Hernandez wrote in his letter to Bozievich.
VFW Post 3232 Commander Tom Benedict also shared his experience with the commissioner and supervisor.
“I myself finally gave up trying to get the service I needed here and went to the Veterans Affairs office in Eugene,” Benedict said. “Shannon (Johnson), who has been serving as our VSO, has been doing an outstanding job, but because of the logistics I was unable to go down to his work space in time to be seen early, nor could I spend time waiting.”
While Reiley, who leads the veterans service programs for Lane County, understood the concerns expressed at the meeting, his response was less than encouraging.
“We recognize the need that is out here, and we are trying to figure out the best way to serve our constituents … I don’t believe we have enough funding currently to have a full-time service officer out here,” he said. “I am hearing you though. … There is a need and it’s a concern and we want to address it. We just have to figure out the best way to do that.”
One of the ideas considered at the meeting was utilizing volunteers to work with veterans that are seeking some type of assistance from the county.
These individuals would help with some types of claims while leaving others to the VSO. If some of the paperwork required to file a claim could be prepared without the assistance of a certified and paid VSO, there could perhaps be more veterans served.
Reiley said some of this has been considered in the past, but there were concerns with non-accredited volunteers doing claims work or assisting in that area.
“Well we started down that pathway … and what we found was those issues are so intertwined with private information regarding claims issues, that we felt we were not utilizing that time efficiently, so that didn’t work out the way we had hoped,” he said.
The answers that Reiley provided to the vets were not what the men had hoped for when they entered the meeting, but the concern and caring he expressed helped to soften his thoughts on the likelihood of an increase in VSO time for Florence.
“With regards to the meeting, most felt that meeting went well and was productive,” said Gargis, who summed up the feelings of the group after the meeting. “I feel that we were told that under the present situation there is a lack of funding that would enable the county to provide for additional time here in Florence for a VSO to meet with our Veterans.”
He added, “Commissioner Bozievich recommended that we approach the city and request that the city help fund this position, as is done in other municipalities. That would be nice if the City of Florence were willing to do that for us, as we have no choice at this point but continue our quest of obtaining help for our deserving veterans.”