Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 10, 2013

Changes to veteran services

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — BEULAH — Benzie County veterans who want financial assistance for housing, bills or other pressing needs will notice changes in how those services are offered, thanks to consolidation of the county’s Department of Veterans Affairs with a similar office in Traverse City.

The Benzie County Board of Commissioners recently agreed to contract future veterans’ services from the Grand Traverse County Department of Veterans Affairs.

Previously, Benzie County offered the services on its own.

Benzie Commissioner Tom Kelley said he believes the veterans office in Grand Traverse County is better suited to secure financial assistance from the federal government.

“That office has access to technology, training and programs beyond what we have,” Kelley said.

The change also came about because many of the 1,812 veterans who live in Benzie County already travel to Traverse City for services such as treatment at the V.A. Health Clinic and the Vet Center for combat counseling, Kelley said.

Not everyone is a fan of the change. County Commissioner Frank Walterhouse, who supported the changes, said constituents’ reaction “is mixed.”

“I don’t particularly agree with it,” added Bruce Anderson, manager of the Benzie County Veterans Affairs Department. “I think they are making a big mistake ... it’s going to make it a little difficult for veterans in Benzie to go up to Grand Traverse to take care of the business.”

Anderson said it does not appear the move will save the county money. The contract calls for Benzie County to pay Grand Traverse County $25,000 a year for services. Previously the county paid about $7,000 to four veterans’ counselors based in Benzie, he said.

Benzie County collects about $55,000 a year from taxpayers for veterans’ services, Walterhouse said.

“I don’t think they are saving any money at all,” Anderson said.

Chuck Lerchen heads the Grand Traverse County Department of Veterans Affairs. He said an employee from his office will be at the Benzie County Government Center every Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Grand Traverse County office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

He expects Benzie County veterans will find the arrangement beneficial because they will be able to access more federal assistance.

“We have been doing this with Leelanau County for 17 years now and its worked great,” Lerchen said.