WATERLOO — Kevin Dill may have racked up a long list of achievements during his three years serving as executive director of the Black Hawk County Veteran Affairs Office.
But his parting wish to the county Board of Supervisors for something yet undone is a long-sought veterans crisis and resource center.
“That is one thing I didn’t get to accomplish that I hope you guys can look at today,” Dill said Tuesday in what he characterized as “one last time” visiting with the board.
“There’s so much more than this office can do in the county, so much more,” he said. “This community is hungry to do more for veterans … and it wants to do this vets center.”
Dill has announced he is leaving his job in February after being diagnosed with Lewy Body disease, a terminal condition with no cure.
The U.S. Marine Corps veteran earned rave reviews during his tenure as the county VA office boosted the number of veterans served and increased outreach and education efforts in the community.
But Dill said he still believes the county needs a place for veterans to come and socialize with other veterans, receive mental health care and emotional support and possibly learn skills or mentor others.
It’s personal to Dill, who said as a child he often had to find places to sleep — a church, a field, a tree or a neighbor’s home — to escape the abuse of his mother who suffered from schizophrenia.
“That’s why I think about our vets center in that way,” he said. “Just a place to go to get some peace and quiet, a place to get some hope.”
At least two previous locations have fallen through, but the county is currently looking at plans to create the center by using more of the first floor of the Pinecrest Building, where the VA offices are now located.
The project would require relocating some state offices and would carry a cost, although Dill noted one family is ready to write a $35,000 check while other donors likely will offer support.
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“I hope that you allow the vets center to come to fruition,” he said. “It really won’t cost you anything. It will save somebody’s life one day.”
Heidi Warrington, a county Veteran Affairs commissioner, is a retired Army psychiatric nurse practitioner who supported Dill’s request and noted there is a shortage of mental health intake services for veterans now.
“There needs to be a private room (in the center) for counseling and to render help in order for veterans to feel comfortable coming in,” she said.
Several supervisors voiced their support for the plan.
“The veterans center is absolutely needed and it needs to happen this year,” said Supervisor Chris Schwartz. “That’s my promise to you and this community: It has to be in this year’s budget. No question.”
Supervisor Craig White added: “This is much needed. This center out there will help a lot of veterans.”
Dill has also asked the supervisors to consider reclassifying two of his employees into higher salary ranges and potentially hire another staff worker, especially if the veterans center opens, to help meet the office’s demands.
Those items are pending a human resources review.
Meanwhile, supervisor Linda Laylin said she hoped Dill would be returning for future board meetings, even if it’s just to be recognized for his accomplishments.
“You put a spotlight on us from the state’s point of view,” she said. “People talk about your office and what you do for them as well as the veterans, helping them and their families. We can’t thank you enough for that.”