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Disabled American Veterans chapter floats plan to handle Hernando vet services

BROOKSVILLE — A local veterans group has proposed taking over veterans services for the county, projecting it can provide additional service officers at half the cost.

This week, the county received the formal proposal from Chapter 67 of the Disabled American Veterans.

In it, Commander David B. Parker describes a program that would utilize two paid, accredited service officers and two volunteers who would be certified service officers. The office, in DAV headquarters on Cortez Boulevard west of Brooksville, would operate five days a week with at least one officer, and two at some times.

The DAV chapter has long offered veteran services, with regular hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays for those needing to stop by for help filling out forms to seek their veterans benefits. Last year, Parker said, the DAV assisted 697 veterans.

Parker points out that the county's veteran services office offers just one officer plus an administrative assistant. The DAV plan would provide "professional services to three times the number of veterans currently being served by the existing system,'' Parker wrote in the proposal.

The DAV says it could serve 2,852 veterans a year; it says the county currently serves 920.

While the county's budget for veteran services is $94,508, Parker estimated that the DAV could do the job for $49,000.

The cost savings come from using two volunteer service officers and paying the two paid officers $10 an hour part time with no benefits, Parker said. The DAV chapter would receive $25,000 in the proposed budget to run the program, with about $7,700 of that to pay for training, technology and supply costs; another $24,000 would be budgeted for salaries.

While Parker said the county's veteran services officer, Matthew Peters, has done a good job, he cannot get to all of the veterans that need help.

"He's only one person,'' Parker said. "When he has to go somewhere or do something, there's no one in that office.''

The other benefit for veterans to go through the DAV would be that their officers have access to 16 national full-time service officers based in St. Petersburg, said Parker. They can provide the support that can move benefit applications through the process more smoothly, he said.

In a county that boasts more than 22,000 veterans who collect more than $71 million in compensation and pensions annually, there is a need for adequate veteran services in the county, Parker argues in his proposal.

"These four service officers will cut the wait times to see a service officer, review claims, file notices of disagreements and formal appeals, request pension and death benefits and ensure veterans are given the most opportunities for VA services and benefits,'' he wrote.

The county veteran services office is funded through the county's general fund. That is the fund that county officials worry will see a $2.5 million revenue shortfall in the 2012-13 budget year because of falling property values. County officials are already talking about where to target spending cuts.

Parker notes in the proposal that, as the county grapples with those budget figures, the DAV could offer extended services to veterans and also save the county money. The organization will handle all training, certification and accreditation for its workers.

Switching to the DAV would also limit the questions that county commissioners get regularly about not being able to get in to see the county's veteran services officers, Parker wrote.

"The county needs to reduce its budget,'' said Ken Fagan, a DAV member who supports the proposal. "It's the beginning of a good plan that makes things good for the county and good for the veterans.''

The proposal also helps the DAV, he pointed out.

"All vets organizations are struggling,'' he said. "We're struggling, too. This gives us an opportunity to continue our services to veterans.''

Fagan said it was up to county commissioners to determine whether the proposal would benefit the county. While he said it was unfortunate that it would mean losing county employees, he said that will happen anyway as the county continues to trim its costs.

"You don't want to lay off cops. You don't want to lay off people,'' he said. "But if you run out of money, you have to do something.''

County officials are still examining the proposal. Chief procurement officer Russell Wetherington said Wednesday that commission Chairman Wayne Dukes asked him to gather some information about the idea. Already, he has heard that there could be concerns about the security of veterans' information and privacy of medical information.

Parker noted that several years ago, Escambia County turned over its veteran services to the DAV. But Wetherington said that alone is not a compelling argument for Hernando to do the same.

"That's one in 67 (counties),'' he said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.



In other business

The Hernando County Commission this week:

• Approved a settlement of the lawsuit filed by Corrections Corporation of America in 2010. The county withheld $1.86 million in final payments as CCA was pulling out of the Hernando County Detention Center and the sheriff was taking over. The county and CCA were in a dispute over how much CCA owed over deferred maintenance at the jail. In the settlement, arrived at through mediation, CCA gives Hernando County $100,000 and retains the remainder of the money.

• Heard County Engineer Brian Malmberg outline tentative plans to begin a study of the use of asphalt millings to replace lime rock on several unpaved public roads. The study hinges on the price the county gets from suppliers of the reclaimed asphalt, Malmberg said. The county is seeking price bids from suppliers that are due Wednesday. Malmberg said the price needs to be competitive with the roughly $7 per ton the county pays for lime rock. The county has been looking for an alternative material to lime rock because residents complain about the dust and the need for constant maintenance to keep lime rock roads passable.

In other business

The Hernando County Commission this week:

• Approved a settlement of the lawsuit filed by Corrections Corporation of America in 2010. The county withheld $1.86 million in final payments as CCA was pulling out of the Hernando County Detention Center and the sheriff was taking over. The county and CCA were in a dispute over how much CCA owed over deferred maintenance at the jail. In the settlement, arrived at through mediation, CCA gives Hernando County $100,000 and retains the remainder of the money.

• Heard County Engineer Brian Malmberg outline tentative plans to begin a study of the use of asphalt millings to replace lime rock on several unpaved public roads. The study hinges on the price the county gets from suppliers of the reclaimed asphalt, Malmberg said. The county is seeking price bids from suppliers that are due Wednesday . Malmberg said the price needs to be competitive with the roughly $7 per ton the county pays for lime rock. The county has been looking for an alternative material to lime rock because residents complain about the dust and the need for constant maintenance to keep lime rock roads passable.

Disabled American Veterans chapter floats plan to handle Hernando vet services 02/15/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 7:38pm]

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