TAWAS CITY – The 2019 activates of the Iosco County Veterans Affairs office, and the possible future expansion of the department, were a topic of discussion during the Feb. 5 Iosco County Board of Commissioners meeting.
The county’s Veterans Service Officer Ron Whitney gave the report, which was the first time such a report was given on the office’s activities. Whitney has been running the office on a part-time basis as a certified veterans services officer. He began the position in September of 2018.
“I’m not sure what has been done in the past, but we should do a year in review,” Whitney said, adding that there are many visits to the office, which is located in the county’s Annex Building in Tawas City, by veterans of Iosco County.
According to Whitney, there have been 792 visits to the office last year by veterans, which averages out to around 60 visits per month. Whitney said much of his work is helping prepare documents for veterans that are used in obtaining benefits. Whitney said last year he prepared 1,403 documents for area veterans.
Some of those documents were for financial assistance. He said that of the 31 financial assistance requests he worked on there were 26 approved for a total cost of $14,535.
Whitney said there was also funding coming into the office from the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund. He said of the nine applications fsor funding from the trust fund, eight were approved, for $11,417.
“This money does not come out of the county, it’s out of the state trust fund,” Whitney said. “Anytime that a veteran needs assistance we submit the applications to the state. We have a committee, the Iosco County Veterans Trust Fund Committee, and we look at each application and once they are approved the committee submits them to the state.”
Whitney also discussed various partnerships with different community organizations to get servies for veterans in the county. One was with the Oscoda Lions Clubs. He said members of the club built wheelchair ramps for three different veterans at not costs.
He said another community partnership was with the Wurtsmith Air Museum, where Whitney said a veterans coffee hour was hosted for six months, until the museum was closed for the winter months. The coffee hour was moved to the Tawases for the winter months.
Vice Chairman Jay O’Farrell said that the Veterans Affairs Office, since Whitney took over as officer, has turned around and worked to provide good services for a lot of the county’s veterans.
“He’s done one heck of a great job in providing information to our vets, so they can lead a better life,” O’Farrell said. “The amount of veterans we have in this county is phenomenal, and that they are being taken care of is phenomenal.”
Commissioner John Moehring said he was pleased with the activities going on at the office, and said he did not remember having a year in review from the office.
After his year in review, Whitney went on to discuss a recent grant that the office received from the federal government that Whitney applied for in August. He said from the grant, which was approved for the county, the department will get $50,000 for a flat rate, plus an additional $17,000 based on the amount of veterans in the community. The grant can be used for different services in the county, as well as for wages in the department.
O’Farrell proposed, that since Whitney is doing a good job with the department, that he should be given a raise with the grant funding as well as have expanded hours to better accommodate veterans in the public.
“Since we don’t have specific line item it is my proposal to increase his wages, because he’s putting in the time anyway, and if that grant was to go away, then he’d revert back to part-time,” O’Farrell said.
Iosco County Clerk Nancy Huebel said currently there is funding in the county’s general fund to cover Whitney’s wages and said that if he were to go full time then the grant funding would have to go toward paying that portion of his salary. She added, however, there could be animosity with other county employees if he were to receive a high raise.
Chairman Robert Huebel said the county should digest the information provided about the grant and make a decision when the county actually gets the grant funding, and approval to go for another grant for the following year.
Members of the board were in agreement and voted to allow Whitney to apply for the grant again for the coming year.