The Anoka County Veterans Service Office has received a $22,500 state grant to enhance its services.
The grant from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Services went into effect Oct. 1, following Anoka County Board action to accept the dollars Sept. 24, and will run through May 3, 2014.
According to John Kriesel, Anoka County veterans service office director, the grant from the state to counties has a base dollar amount of $7,500 plus funding based on the veterans population of the county.
Anoka County’s veterans population fluctuates between 23,000 and 26,000 and that qualified the county for an additional $15,000 through the operational enhancement grant program, Kriesel said.
Kriesel spent time at the 2013 state legislative session lobbying for the state funding.
The previous year the county received less $3,000 through the program and the amount has fluctuated over the years because the money has been diverted to other state agencies, Kriesel said.
Kriesel’s lobbying effort was not only to increase the grant, but to put in place a stable source of state funding for the program, he said.
A small portion of the grant will be used for advertising to increase the visibility of the county’s programs for veterans.
But most of the money will be earmarked to pay for independent examinations of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, according to Kriesel.
“There are a significant number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan that will have post traumatic stress disorder, not to mention Vietnam War veterans who have held it in for 40-plus years,” Kriesel said.
But the Veterans Administration doctors are only able to give a 15-minute exam, which is not long enough, and often deny treatment based on that, Kriesel said.
With the extra dollars, the county veterans service office will be able to set up appointments for veterans with doctors outside the Veterans Administration who are able to provide more thorough post traumatic stress disorder examinations, he said.
According to Kriesel, the number of veterans contacting the county office for assistance is stable right now, but a change in Veterans Administration regulations has reduced the number of times veterans are required to contact the office on an issue from three to one, sometimes two.
“The number of return trips has been reduced,” Kriesel said.
Services provided to veterans by the county’s office include health care benefits, disability compensation, dental, optical, discharge papers, home loans, certificate of eligibility, property tax exclusion, burial benefits and survivors benefits.
The mission of the office is “to provide veterans and their families with benefit counseling, referrals and assistance in a variety of programs.
Peter Bodley is at