WALKER-Jeff Woodford, Cass County veterans services officer, reported to the county board Tuesday the annual number of veteran claims for services rose 46 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Federal figures for amounts paid in 2015 to veterans in Cass County will not be available until June, but figures through 2014 indicate an annual rise each of the last few years.

In 2014, the Veterans Administration paid $28,074,000 to Cass vets, with compensation and pensions, education and vocational training and medical care all rising. The average Cass vet received $8,368 in benefits, Woodford reported.

Additionally, Minnesota paid $57,069.21 in state soldiers assistance grants to Cass vets and gave a $12,000 grant to Cass as a veterans services officer outreach grant.

With the federal shift to allow more vets to use non-VA medical services, the cost for Cass' local veterans transportation program cost and miles driven declined some in 2015 from the prior years, Woodford said.

However, he still is having trouble getting more approval for vets to use non-VA clinics. The concept was that rural areas where it is a long drive to a VA clinic, the vet could be allowed to use a non-VA medical clinic closer to home.

The VA draws a circle around its clinics and measures distances in a direct line as the crow flies, not by highway routes that people travel, Woodford said. The net effect showed VA clinics

in Brainerd and Bemidji are not far enough away to allow private clinic use.

The circles around Brainerd and Bemidji essentially met at Hackensack, Woodford said.

Woodford is trying to argue that people can't drive in a straight line to those clinics and that

veterans live a longer distance from the VA clinics than the federal government guidelines show.

Cass' veterans services office is in the process of scanning all medical records into its computer system, with a completion date of Dec. 31, 2017, now planned, Woodford said.

This makes it much easier for veterans services officers to access veterans' records when meeting with them not only at the main county offices in Backus and Walker, but also when they

host satellite appointment dates in Pillager, Remer and Cass Lake or when making a home visit,

Woodford said.