GREENFIELD — Veterans advocates say Hancock County falls short in serving its military men and women when compared with other Indiana counties.
They’re asking county officials to hire another service officer to help connect more local veterans with benefits they’re owed for serving their country.
Kurt Vetters, a local American Legion post commander, and Bob Workman, the county’s part-time veterans service officer, recently suggested to the county board of commissioners that Workman’s office in the county memorial building could double its hours by adding another part-time employee to help process paperwork and connect with veterans or their surviving spouses and children.
The request for another officer is part of a wider ongoing local effort to better serve Hancock County veterans.
Vetters said the county’s 26 military groups want to streamline their services by eventually building a county veterans center to better serve the county’s roughly 5,500 vets.
Providing better service for the men and women who bravely fought in their county’s honor starts with ensuring they’re able to get help when they seek it, Vetters told the county commissioners.
“We’re falling short in what we can do,” he said.
Now, the office is open only two days a week for about five hours.
When Workman is sick or on vacation, he has no choice but to close the office, he said, forcing veterans looking for assistance to work around a limited schedule.
With another employee, the office could be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. four days a week, Workman said.
The county’s veteran service officer’s primary duty is to assist veterans and their dependents in completing the forms and applications related to receiving federal and state benefits, including medical care, pensions, disability compensation and more.
The officer also oversees outreach to health care facilities and veterans organizations in the county, serves on various veteran boards and acts as a liaison to the regional veterans affairs office.
It’s a big job, Vetters said, and having an extra face in the office would help.
County budget discussions for 2018 have just begun, and the commissioners will need to make a recommendation to the county council to allocate funding to hire more support for Workman.
The board plans to mull the request during the next few weeks, members said.
Workman — who earned $20,800 last year for his part-time work — said several Indiana counties with smaller veteran populations have more help in their veterans service offices than Hancock County, which has a large veteran population thanks likely to its proximity to Fort Harrison.
Cass County employs a service officer and a secretary to attend to the county’s 2,900 veterans; the office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday except Friday, a state database shows.
Putnam County also employs a service officer and secretary and is open every day except Friday.
That county boasts 2,600 veterans, according to Census data.
Workman has proposed the county hire an officer at $20/hour. The position would not include benefits since it would be part-time, he said.
County commissioner Brad Armstrong said it seems there are a lot of people in the community willing to help veterans, and he wonders if volunteers would be willing to spend time in the office to ensure it’s open longer, saving the county the expense of another employee.
But Workman said volunteers can’t process paperwork without going through training required by veterans affairs. And veterans seeking help don’t like to be asked to come back at a different time.
“Veterans, when they come in, they want help now,” Workman said.