Guest Opinion: Veterans Service Office needs support
Minnesota Statutes 2014197.6, which establish counties appoint and compensate a "Qualified" Veteran Service Officer Subdivision 1 states: "Every county officer and agency shall cooperate with the county veteran service officer and shall provide t...
Minnesota Statutes 2014197.6, which establish counties appoint and compensate a "Qualified" Veteran Service Officer Subdivision 1 states: "Every county officer and agency shall cooperate with the county veteran service officer and shall provide the officer with information necessary in connection with the performance of duties."
What is happening here is just the opposite.
I have contacted seven county SVOs, five are standalone offices and two are under Health and Human Services per flow chart only. That is they are evaluated by the county administrator as they have no involvement or direction from HHR. Aitkin County SVO offered that she believes Crow Wing County is understaffed and has some Crow Wing County veterans that claimed they couldn't get in. She added she calls on the Crow Wing County VSO often and recently Kim had 97 messages after a weekend holiday while she only had 10.
Crow Wing County serves the most veterans of the counties I contacted; the closest count is Morrison at 4,000. With three on staff that is 1,066 per staff, while Crow Wing County is over 2,000 per staff. One VSO pointed to reports by the VA for 2012 that show Crow Wing County received $41 million total, with CMP dollars to 5,890 veterans of $21,834,000. For 2013 total just over $51 million, with CMP to 5,759 veterans at $26,268,000 - a 5 million or 23 percent increase. CMP monies are the result of VSO that Crow Wing County should take pride.
Another VSO with a master's degree in business administration dismissed the business plan idea stating: "That is for a company with products to sell and profits to be made."
Still another VSO stated our office and service is "on demand" and when we don't have a veteran sitting at our desk we are researching and doing follow ups on many caseloads. As for goals, he said there are short term goals that he relates as efficiency, that bean counters look for how fast you can "get 'em in and out." The easy way is that you apply for benefits, what they receive is basically enough to keep them around poverty level and if they earn too much they are penalized and they have to re-apply and qualify every January. On the other hand, if your goal is long term and you are effective, not simply efficient, you spend more time with a veteran to discover if they deserve compensation as the result of service connected disability that means more to the veteran and is for life. If you are in this just for efficiency short term, you are in the wrong business.
Winona County has been served by a temp hire for six months while they search for a VSO. Commissioner Nystrom stated: "Bob Nelson was clearly the most qualified when we hired him." Good luck trying to replace him.
What I have just compiled and presented seems to be what leaders should have done. Kind of makes one wonder about the entire Crow Wing County operation.
Michael Pikula is a veteran and resident of Baxter.