Veterans and the Veterans Service Office
I want to use this article to talk about an issue that should be addressed as it affects approximately 28,000 veterans and their families -- the issue is our veterans service office.
The Veterans Service Office -- what the Veterans Service Office does for us and the challenges that they face in being able to provide services that directly deal with the Federal Veterans Administration, a task that they alone have a unique ability to do above other organizations is very important to our veterans and those who support them.
First, our veterans service officers are a trained and skilled section of our county government that directly connects with the Federal Veterans Administration to facilitate Citrus County Veterans applying for benefits, I know because, as a disabled veteran myself, it was through them that I was able to change my rating as my issues got worse -- and if you're not registered or are having issues with the VA they are the county office who help.
They, unlike the other county departments and divisions, help people -- not one time when there is a challenge, but so many times that an individual will build a relationship with our VSO’s as they jointly work together to help Veterans receive the benefits they have earned, and continue to need help with. Veterans will have someone that knows them personally.
Simultaneously, they work like so many others do, after-hours and on weekends. They do this more out of a passion for their fellow veterans than anything else, and yet they -- as most county staff -- will never wave the flag and say 'look at me'; they always give the other guy or gal the credit.
Recently as I was out in the community, I was taken aside by a number of veterans at different times to tell me of their concerns. Seems that the VSO’s have gotten to a point of being so busy that, at the same time as peak activities, they also are going through the natural growing pains of staff wanting career progression, looking to move on to other things.
First, we now have an experienced and loved administrative assistant who has moved up to a higher-paying position in the county, and I for one, can tell you that I understand why someone would want to earn more to provide for their family.
Second, there is one VSO about to leave in the near future, and I am sad to see this experienced VSO go, but can't thank that person enough for all they have done. I hope that whomever replaces them is half as good.
Lastly, our supervisor who also does actual VSO work herself has options that she is weighing, and I hope that we can do what is possible to retain her. That's because, even though each and every VSO is skilled and passionate, our supervisor is working the longest hours, is more active in the community and truly is leading by example.
As a matter of fact, the VSO’s with the supervisor's leadership have been challenged by those who came before them, to take the office to a higher level. And I can tell you the numbers absolutely show this county's VSO's have accomplished that goal.
But because of the relationship between the VSO's and veterans, there has been a large outcry about concerns that the office is suffering, and I want to squash that thought right no. This is the normal change in any staff.
To handle the rumors that are running rampant in the Veterans community, let me state that I feel we the Commission are fully aware of the situation, that the Administrator and department head are aware and a plan to insure proper transition and maintenance of services is being developed.
We have taken advantage of the departure of the skilled administrative assistant who, although greatly knowledgeable, could not access things directly in the Veterans Administration system, and we are converting that position to a part-time VSO position. This should give us more ability to handle more cases and benefit more Veterans. This position will be a part-time position, but should line us up for a potentially successful replacement of the departing full-time VSO.
After that, we would hopefully then hire another part-time VSO, and this could insure a truly well-thought-out transition and expand services.
We also have a strong Veterans Advisory Board that is our focal point for the various Veterans organizations that I feel will be more active than before in guiding the office, speaking to issues raised by the veterans groups and helping to improve services.
But something we have discussed in the Veterans community is that the TDC director is given more support because of the business sector support of tourism, yet -- as much as I agree that we have an incredible hard-working TDC director and staff -- it doesn't actually affect our tax base like that of the veterans in the community.
Veterans in our community live here year round, are more often than not unaffected by the overall economy and bring in a huge dollar benefit from retail to medical and even volunteers.
But as my veterans and I have agreed, the Supervisor of the VSO who makes around $34,000 compared to the rest of the states VSO's, is wrongly amongst the lowest paid in the state.
So we often tell everyone that we support our veterans, all the while not working to insure the person who leads that office is treated as they should be. I have in the past asked for a new Veterans Service Officer position and that was not something that we could see being done in the budget, but I think working to make appropriate funds available to keep us competitive in showing our supervisor of VSO'S we want her to stay is something we should do.
Ultimately if we don't show her our support and she sees better opportunity elsewhere, it will cost us more to replace her and we can't guarantee this high of a level of service will be attained if she chooses to leave.
So things are going well at the Veterans Service Office, the natural office moves are happening and we need to show respect to our supervisor.Of course this article is as always my take on things and I hope to stop the rumors and start the discussion of how things should or shouldn't be done.