The Clallam County commissioners approved the status quo in veterans' services, for now.
The April 28 decision temporarily ends a debate within the veterans' community and in the commissioners' meeting room on how to replace Dick Stumbaugh as the Clallam County veterans' assistant before his April 30 retirement date. However, county leaders indicated the decision may be temporary if an alternative that enhances services is ironed out or if the status quo doesn't handle veterans' needs.
The county will hire an employee to work 16 hours, station the new assistant in the Veterans Center at 308 S. Francis St. in Port Angeles and come back to review the position and its effectiveness in six months. During that time it may look at alternatives, including petitioning the Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee to channel additional veterans' relief dollars to add hours to the staff position.
"We can give this a try, hire a part-time veterans' assistant, see how it goes and set up a review period to come back and address this later this year," county administrator Jim Jones said. "We already have at least 17 applicants ready to go through the hiring process."
Leading up to the decision, both the veterans' community and the county commissioners were split between the part-time county employee option and its alternative, a full-time employee of the nonprofit Serenity House of Clallam County that reports to the county. The full-timer would have had an obligation to align those being released from jail and at risk of being homeless with services as well, an unacceptable combination to most veterans.
Without consensus on the Serenity option, however, commissioners opted to move forward with a county-employed assistant while looking into ways to expand the role and available hours of the new hire, either through increased veteran support or through eventual cooperation with a nonprofit agency.
Debate to continue?
While the decision is made regarding the next six months, the future of the position and veterans' relief remains open for debate. On April 24, about 25 veterans and their dependants gathered at the Veterans Center to discuss the county's veterans' assistant position.
The majority of those in attendance voted to keep the position within the county rather than with Serenity. Attorney Rod Fleck summarized the meeting and sent commissioners a report.
"There was a very strong sense, vocalized repeatedly, that the effort at this point needs to be veteran-driven with a veteran providing assistance with funds designed for veterans," Fleck wrote. "The group also agreed that an effort has to be made by the veterans' organizations, service officers and others interested in veterans' affairs to find additional resources that would permit this part-time position to become closer to full-time in the years ahead."
Several in the audience at the commissioners' study session agreed, indicating volunteers could supplement the new hire's 16-hour shift. Terry Roth, of Port Angeles, said the position should be in one spot where veterans go for help, adding that Serenity House still will have its housing resource centers in each city for the veterans' assistant to refer veterans to. He said the position was not that of a social worker.
"Sometimes Dick (Stumbaugh) was forced into a role of a social worker," Roth said. "This is not a competition to see who will provide services, this position is a point of referral for veterans. (Serenity's) services will still be there for vets."
While County Commissioner Mike Chapman agreed with Roth, several in the audience and Commissioner Steve Tharinger disagreed.
"I'm leaning toward a veteran in the Veterans' Center in this decision because I think people will realize this needs to be changed, which is why Dick (Stumbaugh) was so frustrated," Tharinger said, indicating the former veterans' assistant was lobbying for a cooperative agreement.
Jim Graham, a member of the Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee that supported the Serenity option, said the evolution of the position from referral-based to service-based is a hint at what an expanded population of veterans will need.
"Dick (Stumbaugh) moved the goal post by providing a robust service and that has been a cue for future service, but there is a fear of this change," Graham said. "In my opinion we're too concentrated on what we've done in the past. Veterans will change and evolve and I don't see their needs being met through the status quo."
Everyone agreed more time needs to be made for veterans' services. But whether that would be through veteran agencies alone or though a cooperative with a nonprofit was undecided and likely will be looked at carefully by the county during 2008.
Commissioner Mike Doherty volunteered to participate in a small planning group that would look at the best of the two options and create a recommendation for how to move forward.
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