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

The Butler County Veterans Service Commission set a record last month by serving more veterans than ever before, a trend that prompted commissioners to add a service officer and pass a 6.1 percent budget increase.

The board approved the $3.1 million budget Wednesday, and more than half of it ($1.73 million) will fund direct services to veterans like transportation and financial and food assistance.

“So our assistance is still exceeding our operating costs which I think is important,” Executive Director Caroline Bier said

The commission, which is responsible for being available to help about 26,000 veterans, is funded by a percentage of the general fund millage the legislature carved out to help veterans. Revenues from the millage got a boost this year because property taxes are up, so the board expects about $3.8 million in revenue, an additional $400,000, for next year. Unspent revenues are returned to the county’s general fund.

RELATED: How Butler County’s vet board is expanding services with its new budget

The vet board assisted 652 veterans last month, well above the five-year August average of 521 and the highest number ever. The previous record for veterans served in a month was 598 just after the remnants of Hurricane Ike hit the area in 2008.

“We were chirping about it,” board President Chuck Weber told the Journal-News.

He added that “we’ve done a lot of outreach in the last three to four months and it continues. I think the busier the better.”

To handle the increase in veterans seeking assistance, the board agreed to add another service officer and full-time receptionist for the Middletown location. Weber and Commissioner Bruce Jones have said they were concerned veterans are having to wait too long to see a service officer.

“If our numbers continue to go up, I agree with Chuck, we shouldn’t make a veteran wait two to three weeks for an appointment,” Jones said.

For years previous board members fought over whether or not to advertise the commission’s services. The board has an advertising budget of $175,000 to buy radio spots on several radio stations and newspaper ads. The board now also engages in many more person-to-person outreach activities.

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 board will begin a new program next year at the urging of Jones and Commissioner Tom Jeffers. They have worked with the Butler County Regional Transit Authority to provide free bus passes for job-seeking veterans. BCRTA is offering the vet board discounted passes, and the board will pay the rest.

Jones said veterans can get the free bus passes to look for jobs and continue riding until they get their own transportation. He said it will broaden the job search geography beyond just Hamilton and Middletown for these veterans.

“I just think there’s more job opportunities if you give them a larger area search, obviously,” he said. “We will allow them to use bus passes until they get on their feet and that’s based on the individual with the job they get, maybe it’s a month, maybe it’s six months.”

MORE: Butler County veterans could get free bus passes to look for jobs, get to work

The transportation budget is $100,000 more for next year at $700,000 but Bier said they are only anticipating spending about $20 a month.

Emergency financial assistance dropped from $785,000 in the county’s proposed tax budget to $750,000 in the final vet board budget because Bier shifted more money to food assistance, which grew from $184,000 to $230,000.

“We have spent more on the food assistance program this year than we budgeted,” Bier said. “What we’re finding is even if we’re not able to help people that come in for (emergency) financial assistance, if we are not able to help them with other things, we will try to assist with food,” Bier said. “And food assistance seems to be an across the board need.”

Facts & Figures

$3.1 million: Butler County Veterans Service Commission budget for 2020

$1.73 million: Funding that directly provides programs for veterans

26,000: Veterans served by the commission

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