Thursday, May 24, 2018
News Roundup

County's veteran services manager says bid to take over his job is flawed

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's veteran services manager went on the offensive Thursday over a bid by a local veterans organization to take over his job.

In a letter he sent to county commissioners and the Tampa Bay Times, Matthew Peters outlines statistics about his work load, veteran clients, outreach program, transportation services and additional workers the county coordinates to assist veterans.

The letter was written after Chapter 67 of the Disabled American Veterans submitted a formal proposal to the county earlier this week. The proposal was to provide more services than the county veteran services office at half the price.

The concept is one that several county commissioners said is worth looking at. But they also said there are many unanswered questions and that county staffers are currently gathering more information.

The DAV, which already provides some veteran services, said its countywide service would be an improvement over what the county currently offers. Instead of just one veteran services officer employed by the county, DAV Commander David B. Parker said his organization could offer four officers, including two volunteers. The proposal would cut the cost from $94,508 to just $49,000.

Instead of serving just 920 veterans a year, the DAV could serve 2,852, Parker wrote.

Peters said in his correspondence that the DAV proposal was based on inaccurate numbers and a lack of understanding of the depth of other work he coordinates.

He said visits to the county's office in 2011 totaled 2,314. In addition, there were 152 outreach visits to veterans in assisted living facilities and private residences. And telephone calls and incoming and outgoing correspondence totaled 3,867.

Peters pointed out that the DAV proposal doesn't mention any of that, nor does it address whether the outreach program would continue.

In addition, Peters said he and his administrative assistant, who is scheduled to take the accreditation course for service officers next month, also coordinate veteran transportation vans, which includes maintenance, obtaining volunteer drivers and scheduling trips.

The county's health and human services manager also has accreditation to handle claims in emergency situations. And, Peters noted, he has help from three veterans in a federally funded work study program, a worker through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and 11 volunteer van drivers to handle the needs of county veterans.

Peters also serves as the co-chairman of the Transportation Disadvantaged Local Coordinating Board and is a member of the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board, and he questioned how those roles can be filled if the county's veteran services office goes away.

Peters mentioned that in addition to his accreditation from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, he is accredited by the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Marine Corps League, the DAV, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Non-Commissioned Officer Association, AMVETS, the Fleet Reserve Association, the Veterans of World War I, the Ex-Prisoners of War and the American Red Cross.

Another concern Peters cited is that if the county were to have one specific veterans organization provide veteran services, it might raise questions about the privacy of records, including health records.

Peters told the Times on Thursday that he had gotten numerous phone calls from veterans and those who serve them about the DAV proposal and that he is trying to sort out answers to their questions.

"As the word has spread, they are very concerned about this proposal,'' he said.

Peters also said that he has been told that DAV chapters in other Florida communities have also tried to take over veteran services, but the drawbacks have kept counties from approving the idea.

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said the DAV proposal raises plenty of questions, and he wondered whether the commission can even consider it without formally seeking proposals from anyone who might be interested.

Dukes, who said he is keeping an open mind on the subject, said he has asked staffers to research whether the county can even entertain the idea and whether there would be any implications through the Veterans Administration.

Commissioner John Druzbick said he had questions, too, including whether the county could be sure that 100 percent of any tax money that might go to the DAV would be used for veteran services. He noted that one DAV member, Ken Fagan, said in a story the Times published Thursday that the organization was having financial difficulties.

Druzbick said veterans had already been contacting him, voicing concerns about favoritism to DAV members. While he said he favored seeing whether there might be a more efficient way to serve veterans, "there are just a lot of questions at this point.''

Druzbick also said the DAV should have sat down with Peters to be sure that all facts and figures were accurate before making its proposal.

"Those are red flags to me,'' he said.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins said the county should provide the best possible service to veterans "and hopefully they're getting that now from our veteran services officer. I've heard very few complaints.

"However, if there is a more efficient way to provide this service," Stabins said, "we should look at it.''

Commissioner Dave Russell said he is always open to ideas about how to provide county services more efficiently.

But with all of the collateral services that Peters says could be lost under the DAV proposal, Russell voiced concern.

Though they might not immediately come to mind, once those services go away, he said, everyone notices.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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