Polk needs full time veterans service officer

Published 10:00 pm Friday, March 24, 2017

The Polk County Veterans Service Officer (VSO) is about to retire. Advertisements are already being published to seek a replacement. Unfortunately for veterans, the position is only a part time one and the pay is lousy. This needs to be corrected.

The recent decision by the Polk County Board of Commissioners to disapprove Chairman Melton’s proposal to upgrade the position of the Veterans Service Officer (VSO) to full time is disappointing but not surprising. Melton, the only veteran on the Board of Commissioners, has first-hand, personal knowledge of the needs of the veterans residing in Polk County. He recognized the critical need for a VSO to be readily available to all the veterans, their dependents and survivors who are our neighbors.

With a population of about 20,000, Polk County has roughly 2,000 veterans. The Veterans Service Officer is the veteran’s direct link to the services available from the vast Department of Veterans Affairs. The VSO is required to know an array of federal, state, and local benefits to which veterans and their dependents may be entitled.

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He or she has the job to help veterans in our community learn about, apply for and in some cases, receive benefits. In addition, the VSO’s are trained and accredited by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to assist the veterans and their dependents and survivors. This includes not only applying for federal and state benefits but also providing them resources and answering their questions about such diverse subjects as compensation and pensions, health care, education and training, employment, burial and survivor needs, housing, transportation and military records.

It is a tough and demanding job. Veterans and their survivors call the VSO for help every day of the week. With an empty office, part time employment in this position creates an unnecessary obstacle to prompt and timely assistance to veterans and their survivors anxiously seeking help or counseling.

But wait! There is a solution to this problem. It was hinted at during the recent deliberations by the Board. The solution is to have the County Manager build into his next county budget a full time position for the VSO – a full time position offering a competitive salary. That should recruit a much more qualified candidate for the job. The Board of Commissioners should approve such a position.

Before the debate begins, however, remind yourself that our veterans have not only paid their taxes like the rest of us but they have also paid their dues to our nation and they have earned our support.

~ Otis W. Livingston, Jr. COL USA Ret., Columbus, N.C.