More local veterans were helped by the Butler County Veterans Service Commission than in any year on record, which officials said is a result of better cooperation on the board and a “repaired” reputation in the community.
The board served 6,286 veterans last year, which was a 127 percent increase from 16 years ago. It spent almost $1 million on emergency assistance for veterans for things like housing, food, utilities, indigent burials and transportation.
Service officers made 25,814 contacts — some individual veterans may have been helped multiple times — with vets through office visits, email and phone calls, performing numerous services such as help in filling out forms and filing new VA claims.
Executive Director Caroline Bier, who has been with the organization for more than four years, said there has been a culture change at the commission, which has issues in the past..
“It’s a pretty much a brand new board from when it was then, it’s just better morale, a better outlook,” she said. “Everyone being on the same sheet of music about where we want the organization to go. I think our reputation has been repaired in the community and it’s just all the good things we’re doing.”
In 2017, the vet board served 6,019 veterans, helping them 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.
Butler County Common Pleas Judge Noah Powers — who appoints the commissioners — swore Board President Chuck Weber in for a second five-year term Wednesday.
“I believe there is no higher calling than military service, but secondary to that is the service you provide to our veterans,” Powers told the group. “It’s noble and great work and it’s very honorable. I want to thank you, you’re serving a population that deserves to be served, we can’t do enough for them.”
Several years ago, the board experienced some issues that included accusations against a former executive director of bullying and making racial slurs and against a former board president of creating a hostile work environment.
“I appreciate you have brought this commission around to where we want it to be,” Powers said.
During the height of the dysfunction, it took the commission several tries to break the logjam over the issue of advertising. There are about 25,000 veterans in the county and some commissioners wanted to advertise to reach vets who might not know they are entitled to many benefits. Others felt it was a waste of money. This year six percent of the commission’s $2.9 million, or $176,000, will be spent on radio and print ads.
The first foray into outreach via multi-media methods cost $16,750 in 2015 when they hired Miami University students to do a marketing study and sent out 26,000 postcards to known vets, advertising their services.
The veteran commissioner on the board Tom Jeffers — he replaced Tom Stamper in 2015 — said it’s not just advertising that has boosted their numbers, its the entire commission — including the commissioners — pitching in to reach out personally to veterans. Something that was not done much, if at all, when he joined the board.
“The radio ads help,” Jeffers said. “But the other thing is everybody works together and everybody is out doing things. We’re trying to come up with some other ideas and discuss things on how we can help.”
Another effort that has yielded results is the re-opening of the Middletown office. The board was forced to close that office in August 2015 due to staffing issues. They reopened for business in April 2017 and 1,716 veterans used that office in last year, compared to 1,331 in 2014.