By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
PRINCETON, W.Va. — Maintaining funding for veterans programs in light of West Virginia’s budget shortfalls was a key topic Tuesday when the cabinet secretary over veterans assistance visited Mercer County.
Cabinet Secretary Dennis E. Davis of the West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance visited the Memorial Building in Princeton to hear local Vietnam veterans voice their concerns. The Memorial Building’s local Veterans Assistance office helps veterans tackle the often daunting task of filing for federal-level veterans benefits. The department also employs two social workers and a suicide-prevention director.
“The purpose of coming up today was to interact with the veterans and the community here about what’s going on in Charleston, particularly with the budget and the impact it would have on the Department of Veterans Assistance,” Davis said. “This is one of 17 offices we have across the state. They do an outstanding job of providing assistance to the veterans in this area; and of course, it is funded by the state of West Virginia. Of course, there have been some concerns raised about what’s going to happen if the budget is not fully funded.”
Veterans, when they get out of the military, are entitled to benefits such as job training and college education, he said.
“They’re entitled to medical care, medical benefits, and they are also entitled to disability benefits if their disability is related to their service,” Davis stated. “Our budget, to give you a perspective, is $10.3 million in state dollars. Last year, through these 17 field offices we have across the state, we brought in $1.4 billion in veterans assistance to the veterans in the state of West Virginia.”
Applying for federal veterans benefits can be a complicated task.
“The issue here is the veterans are not that versed in making these claims. They need help,” Davis said. “Before we established these offices, you had to get a lawyer to do that. It’s pretty intense.”
Veterans Davis met in Princeton were concerned about the program’s future.
“They have raised concerns about whether or not these offices will stay open, and we’ve told them that the governor has fully recommended in his budget to the Legislature that they fully fund the Department of Veterans Assistance. Which means, he has recommended that we receive the full $10.3 million that we received this year in next year’s budget,” Davis stated.
Dave Simmons of Bluefield, president of the West Virginia State Council, Vietnam Veterans of America, agreed that the state budget was a big issue for veterans. Veterans are also seeking projects that help ailing veterans.
“We’re pushing for new nursing home in Beckley for the veterans of southern West Virginia,” Simmons said. “We’re going to need to staff that with doctors, nurses, so forth. We know there’s a big money crunch in West Virginia, but this nursing home is really, really important to us now.”
See more from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph