2024-04-25T14:36:08-04:00September 21st, 2023|

This week Tuesday, September 19, 2023, during the county budget conversation of the Finance and Administration meeting, dialogue took place regarding the expansion of the Veterans Affairs department in Ottawa County.

I am sharing here some of the statements I gave during the meeting:

“Earlier this year, this board unanimously passed a Heroes of Freedom resolution and was a great start in unifying our voices to say thank you to our veterans and families. Adding on a small yet vital piece to the Veterans Affairs Department gives each of us an opportunity to put our words into action.

I spent some time talking at length with a Vietnam veteran that resides in my district. Prior to our conservation, this vet also took the time to speak with quite a few fellow veteran friends that reside in Ottawa County.

‘Not one of them knew that Ottawa County even had a VA office,’ a veteran (David) shared, ‘This is not too good.’

David went on to say that hiring a director that has leadership qualities with understanding of all the various contexts with veteran affairs will be a great first step in improving services for veterans.

This veteran, not knowing about the Ottawa County VA, has gone to Whitehall as well as to Wyoming for services.

He shared, ‘I (and others) are not asking for more than we deserve. Vietnam vets have often felt spit on—it often feels like (bureaucracies) are just waiting for us all to die off rather than be of help. Get a start?! We didn’t even know they had a Veteran’s Affairs in the county. Many of us vets have it figured out—we just don’t have a voice.’

Then… let’s take a look at stats we have heard as a board this year. The health department told us that our veterans are the highest number of those that commit suicide here in Ottawa County. This board turned down a small financial grant coming to us from the health department earlier this year—I voted against it because the trade-off involved exposing youth to inappropriate content as a result of the contract.

We were given grief by some in turning down this small grant that in reality had a 90-day window to use.

Yet, during the time this grant was proposed, much work was already taking place behind the scenes to gather information about our veterans in Ottawa County so that more could be done on their behalf. What some of us are now proposing is a very small number—0.2% of the general fund. By beginning with this first step in hiring a director for the Veterans Affairs department, there will be better opportunity to coordinate with many nonprofits through collaboration. An increase in communication and a knowledge of services can take place. Proper analysis can happen such as best location, services, etc. A new fresh set of eyes and one consistent key person could also be an asset.

While some may say that putting more money here will go to infrastructure and not to the needs of veterans, I would suggest that if you invest in a director at this time and an analysis also can take place with a director’s oversight, the scope can be broadened and can provide more bang for your buck.”

Vice Chair Sylvia Rhodea also shared about the veterans in Ottawa County.