Change Must Be Made In The Vigo County Veteran Services Office
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To: Vigo County Commissioners Office
From: Veteran Community
Subject: Vigo County Veterans Services Officer (VSO)
After many attempts to contact the proper channels with our concerns, with no avail; I turn now to various media outlets in this endeavor. In this open letter I will cover how our county Veterans Services Officer has failed and continues to fail the Veterans in this community. I will also try to propose several possible solutions to this issue that will not only satisfy these failings but allow our County Veterans to be properly serviced. Also keep in mind while reading this letter that there are 2 individuals in that office.
Veteran Services Officer Definition (per IN.gov): “The County Veterans Service Offices are a local point of contact for veterans in their county to assist with ALL veteran issues. They work closely with The Indiana Department of Veteran Affairs, The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and various Veteran Service Organizations assisting veterans and their family members with benefits they may be eligible for due to their military service.” http://www.in.gov/dva/2370.htm
The current Vigo County VSO has been repeatedly invited to and not attended various Veteran Service Organization events. Also, they have failed to contact, secure, and build relationships with the many significant resources within (at least) the last 4 years. These events and resources are outline below:
1) Joining Forces: Wabash Valley Military Support Organizations (WVMSO est. 2009). This organization is a conglomerate of local resources here in the Wabash Valley, whose sole purpose is to provide aid for our Veterans in need. On the second Tuesday of every month, this group meets to disclose what each organization is, will, or has done for this mission. We trade ideas, meet new resources monthly, and take them back to our respective areas.
This organization includes, but is not limited to the following: Local Government Representatives, Reach Services, Intecare, Military Family Readiness, DAV, Work One, Vigo County Public Library, Launch Terre Haute, Vigo County Veterans Treatment Court, VA Community Based Outreach Clinic, Chances & Services for Youth, Mental Health America, Hamilton Center, and most importantly other NON Vigo County VSOs (Park, Vermillion, Clay, etc.)
Why does this matter? By not attending these meetings, the VSO has shut itself off from the community and the Veterans they serve. They are unaware of what is going on in the community, where to find resources for their Veterans, and how to best apply those resources to a particular case.
2) Vigo County Veteran Stand Down: A Stand Down is a resource fair type event for homeless and at risk Veterans in the community. Local resources from the Wabash Valley come together with the single mission of aiding our Homeless Veteran Population. The goal is to make “First Contact”, identify barriers, connect the Veteran with the correct resource, and hopefully gain that essential “Second Touch”.
This event is held annually and traditionally ORGANIZED BY THE LOCAL COUNTY VSO. This will be Vigo County’s 4th Stand Down, created by a sub-committee of the above listed WVMSO. This will also be the 4th year, where our county VSO has not answered the call to even be present to set up a table. I will also point out here that surrounding county VSOs (Park, Vermillion, Clay) have been in attendance. However, due to locality they are limited on what they are able to provide with the end result being a referral to our own.
Why does this matter? With the absence of the Vigo County VSO, other agencies have had to step in to fill this role. I will elaborate more on this in a later point.
3) Vigo County Veterans Treatment Court: The treatment court is a collaboration between various agencies: the Court, the VA, the Public Defender’s Office, the Prosecutors Office, the Probation Department, Community Corrections and many other community partners. Working together the agencies have created a viable option for a select group of offenders whose treatment needs are better met through intervention rather than incarceration.
From the beginning of this process our county VSO, whose office is several blocks down the street, has not attended one Team Meeting, Court Date; or been involved in any way in this phenomenal program. I will point out AGAIN that surrounding VSO (Park, Clay, and Vermillion) have been in attendance at least once.
Why does this matter? Veterans Treatment Court, at its core, is about aiding our Veterans who need it most. This is a rich environment to not only absorb other resources; but to service those in need directly. The VSO would also have the ability to directly insert services into an individual’s case management and affect real change.
4) VA & Legislature Town Halls: These events are rare opportunities for Veterans to give direct feedback and ask questions with those that make decisions about benefits and healthcare for our Veterans. Two of these have been held this year, an uncommon opportunity. The absence of our VSO was noted by state legislatures; however, surrounding area VSOs were present.
Why does this matter? Having the opportunity to take your client’s concerns directly to the source is, again, incredibly rare. Asking the questions that matter, providing the answers to your Veterans, and getting the latest information about your area is extremely important.
5) Veterans Work Expo: This is an annual event organized by Work One, to gather employers in search of Veterans for hire. This event marries skilled Veterans with employers looking for those particular skills that only our military can provide.
Why does this matter? Being an advocate along with the local Work One Veteran Representatives increases the chances of our Veterans finding lasting employment. Creating these relationships with employers can often cut out the middle man when a Veteran comes to the VSO looking for employment aid.
6) Base Community Council (BCC): The Base Community Council is a new project that started in October of 2016 and has begun to pick up speed within the last few months. This council is made of Community Leaders who have a desire to support our local military members within the community. For those unaware we currently have 5 different military units in this area, each with their own unique missions and needs.
Why does this matter? Aside from meeting these community leaders to create additional resources; these local units are also encouraged to send representatives to take part. This is direct access to the VSOs secondary target; currently serving military members who may need services.
7) Military Unit Invites: Often times, VSOs are invited to discuss local resources and state/federal benefits to currently serving Members. As mentioned above there are 5 different units in the Vigo County. While I cannot speak for all of them, I know that at least 2 have requested these services and where never answered.
Why does this matter? As stated above, this is direct access to the VSOs secondary targets, future Veterans. By attending these Unit invitations, an early relationship can be secured.
8) Reach Services/ Liberty Village (Mental Health America): Both of these organizations work with homeless and risk Veterans here in the Wabash Valley. Reach Veteran Services has low income housing and the only Veteran Homeless Shelter in the area. They also have various programs for individuals with disabilities, who need food/financial assistance/medical equipment/clothing, and just about anything else you can imagine. At this time Reach has received one referral via voicemail; however 2nd contact was never made after numerous return calls.
Liberty Village is permanent supportive housing for Veterans with disabilities. Their full time staff, along with their partnership with Hamilton Center’s Military Veterans Program (MVP), provides case management, group therapy, and other necessary services to their clients.
Why does this matter? As with the Veterans Court, these agencies work with the most vulnerable of the Veteran population. If anyone needs the county VSO’s services it is this population.
9) Intecare (SSVF): SSVF or Supportive Services for Veteran Families is a national VA grant that allows Veterans with 1 day of active service, and meet other qualifying criteria, to receive housing assistance from 3 to 9 months. This program can also assist with many financial hardships involved in moving to a new location. Long story short, this program is capable of taking a qualifying Veteran from homeless to housed in a matter of hours. At this time the Vigo County VSO has not reached out to this agency.
Why does this matter? Any agency that has the capability to assist the VSO’s client base, should have a working and consistent relationship with that VSO. By not building this relationship, the VSO has failed to secure an extremely valuable resource for our Veterans.
10) HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH): This program combines Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance for homeless Veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). VA provides these services for participating Veterans at VA medical centers (VAMCs) and community-based outreach clinics. While surrounding county VSOs have reached out to this program with referrals, Vigo County has not. Vigo County holds one of the largest caseloads in the state for homeless Veterans under this program.
Why does this matter? As with the above listed agencies, Homeless Veterans are a vulnerable population with many needs. Not having this invaluable resource is a disservice.
What affect has this had on the Veteran community as a whole? Non-for profit, Charities, and other agencies have had to step in to do the work of the paid Vigo County VSO. Some of these agencies are volunteer based without pay, others are funded by generous donations from the community. Listed below is a sample of the impact:
- Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs is currently referring Vigo County Military Family Relief Fund (MFRF) applications to REACH Veteran Services, instead of the County VSO
- The VA Community Based Outreach Clinic (CBOC) is referring clients to REACH Veteran Services, instead of the County VSO
- Veteran Service Organizations such as the DAV are overloaded with VA claims work
- Veterans who ONLY seek the county VSO are lost to all of the above listed resources
- Veterans are receiving misinformation about their benefits
- Many Veterans have stated that they do not feel comfortable going to our County VSO
- Some of our own County Commissioners are referring friends and family to out of county VSOs
How can we fix this? There is only one of two possible solutions to this issue that needs to be solved. We as tax payers CANNOT have an ineffective appointed position weighing down our community resources. It is not only a disservice to us, but more importantly our Veterans here in the Wabash Valley.
1) The Commissioners immediately take action to ensure that the current County VSO is properly meeting the needs of our Veterans. In doing this I propose the following:
- Immediately Contact Mr. Tim Dyke to request an Audit through the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs. This will show if the office is overloaded and needs assistance.
- A Semi Annual report released to the public identifying number of Veterans served as well as types of services given. This report would provide accountability for the office as well as the community.
- Mandatory Attendance and participation to the above listed community resources by at least 1 individual from the County VSO’s office.
- An Annual VSO Town hall meeting with the local Veteran Services Organizations, (VFW, DAV, AM Vets, Marine Corps League, Legion) to discuss needs and climate of our Veterans. This style of outreach allows the Veteran community direct access and input into this service; which was put into place for them.
2) The Commissioners do not appoint the current County VSO for an additional term. In doing this I propose the following:
- Allowing the Veteran Community to assist in appointment of the new VSO. This could be accomplished after acceptable candidates have been chosen by the Commissioner’s office; during a public meeting
- The new VSO have experience with and be familiar with Local, State, and Federal Resources
- The new VSO have experience with and be familiar with the wide range of issues facing our Veterans
- The new VSO should have a working relationship with or knowledge of various Veteran Services Organizations (VFW, DAV, AM Vets, Marine Corps League, Legion)
- The new VSO should adhere to the points outlined above.
In closing, we have been wasting time and county tax dollars on an ineffective system that can and should be re-evaluated. We also then fund dollars into Non Profit agencies who fill in the gap in these services; when in reality there should be little to no gap to fill. To be fair, I have heard some good things about our County Veteran Services Officer where some have received help. However, a few good stories do not outweigh the mountains of bad. IF this is an issue of manpower, it will be discovered by the audit and should be addressed immediately.
As identified by our state legislators at this last Town Hall on September 12 2017 “Our VSO should be the focal point for all things in the Veteran Community, the base of the pyramid”. I would like to add that it should be a welcome office overflowing with knowledge, grace, and dignity by means of strong ties to each and every resource that is capable of helping a Veteran in the Wabash Valley.
Something Has to Change
A Wabash Valley Veteran
*Above information is direct knowledge through working in and with the Wabash Valley Veteran Community*
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