More than 5,000 Hancock County residents are veterans, about 10 percent of our population. We own around 600 local businesses. Our benefits bring in about $40 million into our local economy. We are, and continue to be, a major economic driver for our county. We are not, I guarantee you, an economic drain to Hancock County. We are leaders and investors in positive change here.
But we do need tending, and the county gains by investing in us. Currently the county has a fine service officer in Bob Workman, who works tirelessly for this community. And the county government has housed him in a great spot in the Memorial Building.
Bob is one of the hardest-working men I know. But one person, part time, can only do so much. He gets help from many veterans organizations, especially the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the local veterans community is organizing even more to help him reach the young veterans just back from duty.
We all read Samm Quinn’s excellent article on Mr. Nyikos’ ITT dilemma (“Supporting veterans,” March 18, A1.) Now is the perfect time for the Hancock County Commissioners to beef up our veterans service team.
We hope that in the future, Mr. Nyikos will be able to find out about his benefit change, not from a friend, but from a robust operation at a full-time staffed local veterans center, where staff and veteran volunteers are standing by to help him navigate the maze of Department of Defense and Veterans Administration bureaucracy.
Because of our close proximity to Fort Harrison, we have local people with the skill set to work with these veterans. The leaders in the veterans community in Hancock County are working to bring resources to bear to help the county in its mission.
We should start with getting Bob some help. He has asked Hancock County Commissioners to fund another part-time position to help him. It now rests with the county council to approve. Bob needs to start training a new service officer, and this is a job that takes some years to get up to speed. Two officers will help make a whole, and as usual, we vets will rally around them to help.
A $15,000 investment in a new position by the county government could reap the cost rewards with one successfully navigated claim, and greater investment will reap even more.
We thank the commissioners and council members for their past investments to make the Memorial Building more accessible for our veterans. It is money well spent.
Currently we have many supportive private organizations doing great things in our community for veterans, and our hope is that we can begin to create a “Love INC-style” central office for our county vets.
Just as Love INC is a clearinghouse to help local churches work together and not duplicate efforts, such an office for veterans could form a network between existing groups.
AmVets does amazing things. VFW does amazing things. Disabled American Veterans, Team Rubicon, and American Legion posts in Fortville and New Palestine and Greenfield all are in the business of helping veterans. But we overlap in many areas, and we hope to do a better job at being proactive in the lives of our vets and their families.
This column, and our mission, is not to ask for help. We are trying to offer help. We are asking our county representatives to provide additional staff to support our mission. Many of us volunteer to staff and support our county service officer, and we all work together to aid these proud men and women.
We pledge to continue to be the advocates that bring veterans in and become the best they can be. We hope we bring great value to our community and provide positive role models for our young people. We hope the residents of Hancock County will continue to invest in us.