GREENFIELD — They still remember those battles they fought, the scars left behind by war.
Some wounds are visible, others hide in the hearts of those who would rather not give voice to what happened.
The stories veterans share aren’t easy to tell, and they depend on the professionals with the county’s veterans service office to help them work through those issues. Until recently, the setting made it a challenge to get the help some so desperately need, officials say.
County officials recently took steps to improve the veterans service office at 98 E. North St. They hope the changes make the county’s servicemen and women feel more comfortable talking about sensitive or confidential topics. They cordoned off the space, making it more private and insulating the office from the hustle-bustle of other goings-on in the county memorial building, which also houses a gym and several nonprofits.
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The project wasn’t a costly one, but the benefits are great, officials said. The county commissioners earlier this year set aside up to $2,800 of proceeds from a bond the county previously borrowed to renovate the space. This week, a contractor completed those renovations, creating what county officials hope is a more comforting area that will encourage veterans in need to seek help.
Previously, the office near the building’s entrance had partial walls. When veterans were visiting, they could hear the distracting activity nearby – the squeak of sneakers against the gym floor, snippets of discussion among visitors to other offices. And their own conversations – which are often sensitive – could be overheard by passers-by, said Bob Workman, the county’s veterans service officer.
It’s the second time in as many years the county has invested funding to make the memorial building more veteran-friendly. Last year, county officials spent about $30,000 installing a wheelchair lift and ramps to make the facility handicapped accessible.
The veterans service office serves as a local point of contact for Hancock County veterans. Workman, a part-time employee, assists military men and women with a variety of issues related to their service to the country, including connecting veterans and their families with benefits.
The memorial building that houses the office was constructed in the 1920s to serve as a memorial and gathering space for young men who had served their country in war. In recent years, it’s become home to a smattering of organizations that had no place else to set up their offices. It also hosts a variety of Greenfield Parks and Recreation events, some of which coincide with Workman’s office hours.
Sometimes, veterans need help filling out paperwork or seeking information on benefits they’re entitled to. Other times, they discuss more personal matters, and those conversations should be private, Workman said.
Additionally, a psychologist uses the space to counsel veterans. With games and other activities surrounding the office, some veterans weren’t comfortable opening up.
A local veteran with construction experience spotted the need and volunteered to do the work at a reduced cost, saying it’s his way of giving back to the community.
Rob Harsh, a U.S. Navy veteran, spent the past few weeks renovating the space. Harsh stepping up to do the work likely saved the county $6,000 or more, officials said.
He donated the materials needed to complete the renovations and is working with a company that will donate new door locks to the office.
County commissioner John Jessup said he supported the project because he was concerned about veterans’ privacy.
They’ve earned the help they seek through their service to country and shouldn’t feel the personal stories and information they share are at risk of being heard by outsiders.
“We wanted them to feel that the office is a place they can come and seek the help they need,” Jessup said.