Working off a Washington State mandate directing counties to ensure there is assistance for veterans, Pacific County Commissioners have penned Resolution 2015-006 creating the Pacific County Veterans Advisory Board with a vote of 3-0 during the Jan. 27 Pacific County Commissioners meeting.
The Advisory Board is a five-person panel that looks into assisting indigent veterans of Pacific County. Members may serve up to two consecutive terms and must have a one-year absence from the board prior to applying for another term.
The creation of the board is set to advise the county legislative authority on the needs of local indigent veterans.
RCW 73.08.035 outlined that counties should create such a board and under a 2005 revision moving it from the Soldiers and Sailors Act, the Veterans Relief Fund was instated. The law actually has a history that dates back to the late 1800's and in some form directs state governments to give additional assistance to those that have served their country in the armed forces. It has taken on many evolutions during that time and the latest is a reformation with direct focus on those indigent veterans.
"There use to be a board prior to my seat on the Pacific County Commissioners; it was a program before any of the current commissioners were elected," said Pacific County Commissioner Lisa Ayers. "It was disbanded a few years after its initial creation. It is my understanding that the board at the time deemed that their services were no longer needed. It was brought back to our attention last year and we have been working on creating the board again."
Currently the county still assists those veterans in need but have been doing so without a Veteran Board.
Raymond American Legion Post Commander Charles Benedict says that he has helped at least a dozen veterans seek additional assistance and has been one of those to bring it to the attention of the County Commissioners noting that additional help is needed.
Data from the last census tags Pacific County with a 15% veteran population of its 20,500 residents.
The board will look at assisting those veterans who are in temporary need of help in the areas of housing, food, medical and utility costs, and hopes to grow the board to fill the gap between local veterans, state and federal veteran programs, and in advising the Pacific County Commissioners, and bringing specific cases to their attention. The Commissioners will allow or disallow on a case by case basis.
"It is not a stipend, but a temporary grant to help veterans who qualify as indigent," said Mike Harris of Grays Harbor County Veterans Board. "Any veteran who qualifies can ask for assistance."
Grays Harbor County has had their board active for the past nine years and has a list of veterans that they help fewer than 200. Grays Harbor veteran population is currently running at about 11% of their 71,000 residents.
"It is hard to place a real good number on the individuals or families that need our assistance. If they don't ask, they are not counted. Mostly it is getting the word out that there is assistance if needed for them," stated Harris.
Everybody involved in the assistance of veterans agree that there still is a problem for some. It is just hard to get an accurate count as many are also homeless and if they did not desire to seek assistance, they are hard to find.
Communication Director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs Heidi Audette works with county boards and is looking to improve the future of these types of boards and what they can do.
"We assist all counties in Washington State when they make contact with us," Audette said. "We provide additional information as to current programs and resources. One thing that we would like to see is a sharing of information, a best practices, if you will, across the state, with counties helping counties in what has worked for their area and helping to identify the needs of the veterans with the management of the Veteran Relief Fund."
Even though the state mandated that counties create a Veteran Board, and allocates a percentage of tax dollars (based on a sliding scale) to be spent assisting the veterans, the state does not run oversight over the counties.
"It is county money, and each county can create what best fits their budgets, and their veteran population," noted Audette.
Pacific County has outlined the board and has filled it with members who are receiving their letters of appointment this week. Two of the five positions will serve from the effective date of Feb. 1, 2015 through December 31, 2018. The other three positions serve from Feb. 1, 2015-December 31, 2017. The board will consist of a Chair, a Vice Chair and staff members, and placing the members into specific roles will be the first duty that the board will take on in their first meeting scheduled for February 18 at 10 am at the Pacific County meeting room.
"Notification has gone out from a previous solicitation to fill the positions. We still have to see if those who applied are interested in serving and get the board started," said Commissioner Ayers.
It is further directed in Resolution 2015-006 that the board will meet on a bi-monthly basis and governed by the provisions of the Open Public Meeting Act, and operate under Roberts Rules of Order. Three voting members will constitute a quorum when conducting business.
Members can be dismissed if they are absent more than one regular meeting per year, and the Pacific County Commissioners can waive dismissal at their discretion. Members serve at the pleasure of the Pacific County Commissioners and may be removed for any cause.
Stay posted for updates to the creation of the board or attend a Pacific County Commissioners meeting or a Pacific County Veterans Advisory Board meeting as they are scheduled.