FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County's Veterans Service Office is looking for a few good volunteers, said Josh Medina, veterans service officer.
"The more we connect with other people in veterans service, the more veterans are going to receive support," Medina said.
The veterans service officer for Washington County recently became accredited through the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs. To see which counties have accredited officers, visit the state website at www.veterans.arkansas.gov
Source: Staff Report
The office is understaffed and needs volunteers to answer the phone, do light office work and help veterans navigate software to apply for benefits and file claims, Medina said.
Any adult, not just veterans or county residents, can volunteer, Medina said. So far, about 12 people have asked to be on a list, but Medina said he needs more people to make sure about 20 hours a week are covered.
The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m Monday through Friday and by appointment. The office is closed noon to 1 p.m. for lunch.
The office helped 1,063 veterans between Jan. 1 and Sept. 31 this year, Medina said. About 414 veterans came to the office in all of 2016, records show. Part of the increase is attributed to Medina's outreach, said Justice of the Peace Harvey Bowman, a Republican representing northern Washington County.
About 12,300 veterans live in Washington County, Medina said.
Medina, who took over as veterans service office in January, has two part-time employees. The office needs one more full-time position, but that won't happen this year and isn't in the 2018 budget. Medina said he hopes volunteers will help out beginning in January.
Wood, who is over the Veterans Service office, didn't respond to a request for comment Wednesday or Friday. Wood didn't request another full-time employee for next year but told justices of the peace at a budget meeting last month he thought Medina's budget is underfunded. The office requested $171,000 for next year.
Benton County has 16,782 veterans and its office has a budget of $277,500, Medina said. Sebastian County serves 9,253 veterans with a $187,000 budget, he said.
The Washington County Quorum Court plans to approve the 2018 budget Thursday during its next meeting.
Some justices of the peace are concerned about putting more money into the office, but Medina said the office is a clearing house connecting veterans with local, state and federal resources. It's also a federal mandate to have the office, he said.
Plus, serving veterans is the right thing to do, Medina said.
"If nobody else is is serving the population -- isn't that where you want to step in and serve?" Medina asked. "They served their country, state and county -- that includes every one of us in some regard."
Bowman said Medina's office is doing a great job, but the Quorum Court is worried about the county's $68 million budget. The budget has a shortfall of about $5 million between proposed spending and projected revenue next year. If volunteers can cover the needs of Medina's office, then that would be the best thing for the county, Bowman said.
NW News on 11/11/2017
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