Veterans service office get help for workload

by Peter Bodley
Managing Editor

A staffing increase to address the increasing workload in the Anoka County Veterans Service Office has been approved by the Anoka County Board.

Allison Lister, Anoka County veterans service officer.

Acting on a recommendation from its Management Committee, the board Feb. 14 unanimously approved a request from Anoka County Veterans Service Officer Allison Lister to hire a new deputy veterans service office.

Besides Lister, the veterans service office currently has three deputy veterans service officers working with veterans – Amy Pomeroy, Lara Bartley and Brent Skaja.

But the number of in-office visits has made it difficult to keep up with other required duties of deputy veterans service officers, according to Lister.

These include providing services through e-mail, phone contact, outreach, pre- and post-deployment reintegration events and training, Lister said.

“An additional deputy veterans service officer would provide our office with the ability to serve our clientele more effectively and the flexibility to support other areas within the office,” she said.

“With the upward trend of clients served, I cannot foresee this position going away.”

Indeed, in-office visits surpassed 6,400 in 2011, some 550 more than in 2010, according to Lister.

And when the Veterans Administration outpatient clinic opened in Ramsey, the number of veterans visiting the Anoka Veterans Service Office took a significant jump, Lister said.

“November was a record month for visits with the opening of the clinic,” she said.

“We had a huge influx, but it has calmed down a bit since then.”

The opening of the outpatient clinic impacted the veterans service office because veterans going to the clinic had to be enrolled first at the veterans service office, Lister said.

And in some cases, veterans attending the clinic were then referred to the veterans service office to deal with other veterans-related issues, she said.

The opening of the VA clinic has led to more awareness of the services provided by her office, Lister said.

The number of office visits made to the veterans service office has grown every year since 1990 when the first Gulf War or Operation Desert Storm began, according to Lister.

And each year since 2000, that number has increase by at least 100 each year, Lister said.

At the same time the number of veterans stopping by the office has gone up, so has the e-mail and website contact between veterans and the veterans service office, she said.

“We are getting more and more e-mails and website visits,” Lister said.

“Lots of veterans contact us via e-mail.”

According to Lister, the return of more than 2,000 Minnesota National Guard members from deployment in Kuwait later this year is likely to lead to another spike in contacts, either through office visits, e-mails and phone calls, with the veterans service office.

“The services we offer are beneficial and we encourage veterans to contact us,” Lister said.

The Anoka County Veterans Service Office’s mission is “to provide veterans and their families with benefit counseling, referrals and assistance on a variety of programs,” the office website states.

Those programs include health care benefits, disability compensation, dental, optical, discharge papers, home loans, certificate of eligibility, property tax exclusion, burial benefits and survivors benefits.

The new deputy veteran service office position, which will pay $48,880 a year plus benefits, was not included in the 2012 county budget.

But according to County Administrator Jerry Soma, the board, anticipating the need for the position, designated reserves to pay the cost.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]