Butler County back to serving more veterans, especially younger vets

Chief Service Officer Matt Jones, right, helps Franklin English, a Navy veteran, with services during a meeting at Butler County Veterans Service Commission Thursday, May 16, 2019 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Chief Service Officer Matt Jones, right, helps Franklin English, a Navy veteran, with services during a meeting at Butler County Veterans Service Commission Thursday, May 16, 2019 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Butler County Veterans Service Commission has been serving vets throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and numbers served are inching back up, but the board wants to reach younger people too.

Veterans have not been able to have face-to-face meetings with service officers since mid-March, but the board served more vets in July (468) than it had since February.

“We’re still coming out of this, the doors aren’t busting down,” said board President Chuck Weber. “But we’re growing every month, every month that goes by the veterans served is growing and I’m satisfied with that as long as we keep on that kind of a plane.”

Explore‘We were chirping about it’: Boosted budget reflects better service for Butler County vets

The board is down one service officer since Mike Farmer was promoted to executive director a month ago. After former executive director Caroline Bier left, Chief Service Officer Matt Jones was serving as interim, meaning it has been short-staffed since June.

“I was very happy to see our numbers climbed a little,” Jones said. “When you consider the time period we’re talking about, we were down personnel because of Matt filling in as our executive director. We had one service officer who hadn’t passed her test yet. So when you consider that and the one we’ve had in and out with his illness, I’m very happy with how the numbers turned out for last month.”

Weber said he expects the board to be fully staffed in the first quarter of 2021.

Often confused with the Veterans Administration, the independent board is charged with helping vets navigate the Veterans Administration system to get medical help and other services, arranging and paying for transportation to medical appointments and finding local services for everything from legal issues to marriage counseling.

The budget for this year is around $3 million, and $175,000 was budgeted for radio and newspaper advertising. The vet board for a number of years fought advertising as an outreach tool but now embraces the medium to draw in more veterans who might need their help. Increasing the paid advertising budget is not planned but other outreach is.

The board has a Facebook page already and people can view the monthly meetings on there. Farmer plans to expand the use of social media to capture more of the younger audience as well.

“The younger veterans are on TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat, those types of platforms,” Farmer told the Journal-News. “So that is all free advertising that all we have to is, we have the content it’s just a matter of putting it on there.”

The board’s face-to-face appearances at events and speaking engagements at places like nursing homes, have also halted during the pandemic. Farmer said that is also about to change.

“We’re going to dangle our feet slowly back in the waters of the outreach world,” he said. “So we’re going to look at in a very limited fashion public outreach events such as the concerts down here on the river on Thursday nights.”

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