While the board is not affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs — it is an arm of county government — it offers services like emergency cash, assistance for veterans navigating the Veterans Affairs system, transportation to medical appointments, and help finding local services for legal issues to marriage counseling.
When the pandemic hit all in-office appointments with veterans were suspended and still are. The office has been handling everything by phone. Farmer said once face-to-face meetings are sanctioned by health officials they will resume that service in the Hamilton office as well as via phone or video conferencing.
“It is the veteran’s choice, once restrictions are lifted and we can see you face-to-face, that’s not going away,” Farmer said. “It’s just up to the caller how do you want us to serve you. Do you want to come in, do you prefer a phone call, do you prefer a video chat, how do you want us to help you.”
Prior to making this decision the vet board staff looked into the numbers and Chief Service Officer Matt Jones said his people can definitely handle more work with fewer people. They have five service officers and two benefits coordinators, prior to the pandemic they had six and three respectively because they had people stationed in Middletown.
In 2019, their highest service year ever, they helped a total of 6,673 veterans last year during the pandemic the number was 5,792. Jones said on the service work side they have been at around66% capacity, he’d like to see them at 75 to 80% but any higher than that becomes difficult. The veterans benefit side is also well below capacity.
Commissioners Bruce Jones and Tom Jeffers said the many of the people who were using the Middletown office were just going to see Farmer because he was the service officer before his promotion.
“As a business decision it was the smarter thing to do to close out Middletown,” Jones said. “We’ve closed it before and reopened if it became necessary. But to be honest I don’t think it ever will become necessary just because the way people communicate nowadays.”
Jeffers noted nothing is ever final.
“It’s going to work good, if we ever get to a thing where we’re busting at the seams and we can’t take care of people we’ll look at something new,” Jeffers said. “We feel confident about doing it.”