WATERLOO, Iowa --- The executive director of the Black Hawk County Veteran Affairs Commission said the agency's budget isn't keeping up with demands.
Bennie Spain is pressing his case after members of the county Board of Supervisors rejected the commission's request for an additional staff member in the proposed fiscal year 2013-14 county budget.
"I care about the veterans, and I want them to know we tried," Spain said.
The commission, which helps veterans apply for federal benefits and provides some direct support, requested an additional $50,000 to hire a fifth staff member, along with more funding for overtime and burial benefits. But the proposed county budget only included the additional burial costs.
Spain said another staff member would help reduce the wait for appointments at his office --- currently two weeks --- while allowing the commission to do more outreach at the University of Northern Iowa, Hawkeye Community College and nursing homes.
"We have a tremendous amount of walk-ins," Spain said. "So many suffer from (traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder), and when they reach out for help, if they don't get it immediately they seem to go away.
"The suicide rate is terrible," he added. "For anyone we lose, it deeply hurts me; I can't imagine how it affects the families."
Meanwhile, a new state law allowing veterans to get a special stamp on their driver's license when it is renewed is putting additional stress on the county office. Spain is required to sign off on each of those applications before the vets can get the license stamp.
Spain said he won't be able to spend time at state meetings or have staff at the campuses based on current funding levels.
"Some of these (college veterans) are having difficulty coping anyway," he said. "When they've got classes it's hard to schedule with us, with our office hours."
The county supervisors opted not to fund new positions in next year's county budget to help keep property taxes down. The proposed county budget would result in a minimal increase in residential property tax bills and a tax cut for businesses.
But Spain said the additional $50,000 would have little impact on tax bills while providing major benefits for the economy.
"VA is a major player in the economy in Black Hawk County when you look at the federal dollars that come in here," he said. "This is real dollars coming into the county through veterans and their families, and that money is spent here in the county."
The county's 10,417 veterans received about $17 million in compensation and pensions, $12.7 million in medical care and more than $2 million in vocational rehabilitation funds in the last fiscal year.
"We can do 25 to 30 percent better" with more staff, Spain said.