Butler County has made a nearly unprecedented move to help area veterans

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Butler County honors Jerry Nelson and Marvin Sizemore as Veterans of the Year.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The Butler County Veterans Service Commission hopes to be more aggressive in reaching and helping veterans in the area this year with an increase in the general fund allotment.

Property tax increases will boost the vet board’s portion of general fund millage about $400,000 to $3.8 million this year, which was the first increase in many years, if ever. The board passed a $3.1 million budget for 2019.

Board President Chuck Weber said officials already planned an increase in tactics, so the allotment jump is important..

“Outreach begets expense because you get more people coming in and then therefore there’s more claims and people seeking help,” he said. “I am very aware, I don’t want to start doing things that are going to unnecessarily push us too close to the brink.”

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The commission, which is responsible for helping about 27,000 veterans, is funded by a percentage of the general fund millage the legislature carved out to help veterans.

Historically, the board has budgeted about $2 million or less, doling out emergency cash to help veterans navigate the Veterans Administration system, arrange and pay for transportation to medical appointments and find local services for everything from legal issues to marriage counseling.

The board returned almost $100,000 in unused finances to the general fund last year.

In recent years, the vet board has beefed up efforts and budgets to find more veterans and make them aware of all the services the board offers.

Since 2016, when the board started advertising its services, the number of veterans served has skyrocketed. The board helped 1,404 more veterans last year than the 4,882 served in 2015. In the first two months of this year, the agency helped 898 vets.

The board has so far concentrated on its customary services, but talks recently have moved to possibly expanding the mission in the direction of helping veterans with transportation to their jobs, not just medical appointments. Executive Director Caroline Bier said any such move will not be added to this year’s spending plan, but officials are starting the conversation with the Butler County Regional Transit Authority.

“I think it’s a good conversation to have with BCRTA, which is where we’re going to go,” Bier said. “Just asking them or trying to collaborate on some kind of veteran’s bus pass we could possibly assist with purchasing for veterans. So if transportation is a barrier for employment, and we do have those veterans who encounter that, then that’s one step of a solution.”

Weber said he is open to discussing the idea but the board members “don’t want to run their expenses off the Richter scale.”

Commissioner Bruce Jones said he continues to hear that transportation is a major issue.

“A lot of the issue is they don’t have transportation to look for jobs that are basically outside of walking distance or what the buses will do and they still have to pay for that,” Jones said.

Jones said he and Commissioner Tom Jeffers have a meeting in April with Matt Dutkevicz at BCRTA.

“We’re going to talk to him about working to try to get some kind of a deal that either veterans get an extremely large discount or completely free, using a Butler County veterans card,” he said. “And see what it would take on our part.”

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