New Butler County veterans board member advocates more outreach

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Newest Butler County vet board member sworn in.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A survey of veterans who have visited the Butler County Veterans Service Commission seeking help shows word of mouth is still the strongest outreach tool, but more people are reporting they are hearing the veterans board’s ads on the radio.

The board has gradually increased its ad budget over the past few years, hoping to reach more veterans who might need their help. In December vet board approved a partnership deal with Warren County where each county contributes about $50,000 to run ads on several radio stations. Butler County also agreed to buy some additional radio air time and ads in the Journal-News for a total buy of $81,834 — up from the 2016 budget of $51,975.

A six-month survey of veterans showed 26 people learned about the vet board by word of mouth and seven came in because of the radio ads. In all, 26 people reported hearing the radio ads when they were asked on the four dates veterans were surveyed.

Executive Director Caroline Bier said they ask all of their clients to fill out the survey, but very few do, so it is hard to gauge by this instrument if the radio ads are working. Out of more than 2,000 veterans served from August through mid-January only 72 submitted the forms.

“We are probably not getting a large enough sample size,” Bier said. “We don’t make them do it.”

For years the board was at a stalemate over the issue of advertising, but then some new board members joined, tipping the scales in favor of that form of outreach. The newest member, Dave Reed was sworn into office Wednesday by Butler County Common Pleas Judge Noah Powers.

Reed mentioned when he is up at the veterans clinic in Middletown the Warren County vet board van is always there and a veritable beacon for veterans who need help but do not know how or where to get it.

“Everybody sees Warren County. Warren County sticks out like a sore thumb up there,” he said. “They are bringing the big mobile van, they stick out more… Warren County is being seen and we just need to do something to stick out like they do.”

Powers appointed Reed from a pool of three Disabled American Veterans candidates, to replace Ken Smith, who retired after 15 years on the board.

The commission is funded by a percentage of the general fund millage the legislature carved out to help veterans.

Butler County’s millage brings in about $3.4 million annually, but historically the board has budgeted $2 million or less, doling out emergency cash, helping veterans navigate the Veterans Administration system, arranging and paying for transportation to medical appointments and finding local services for everything from legal issues to marriage counseling.

The remainder of that money reverts to the county’s general fund. The vet board sent $105,985 of their $2 million budget last year back to the county general fund, the $1.4 million that wasn’t budgeted was already in the county coffers.

A final tally of veterans served for 2016 was 4,553 out of the estimated 26,000, this represents the lowest number of veterans served over the past five years. But the office tied the five year record in November when 496 veterans received assistance.

Commissioner Chuck Weber, who was installed as the board president by his colleagues on Wednesday, said he still thinks they are moving in the right direction and he is “encouraged” their numbers are growing instead of slipping. He said the newest outreach push needs to be getting the Veterans Administration in Cincinnati to point people in their direction.

“This thing about word of mouth, if that is a good source we need to develop that,” Weber said.

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