MOUNT VERNON — Over the past 10 years, Veterans Administration statistics estimate that the number of military veterans in Knox County has declined by 272 due to age-related deaths and other factors, from an estimated 4,605 veterans in 2009 to 4,333 in 2018, local veterans officials told Knox County commissioners last week. Conversely, spending in the county by veterans has increased by small amounts each year.
No one really knows how many veterans there are in Knox County said Kevin Henthorn, director of the county Veterans Services Office. They are not required to be registered.
The local veterans office does everything it can to reach out to local veterans through “a lot of advertising” and explain services offered, he said. Those services include counseling, transport to Veterans Administration appointments in Columbus and other locales, loan seminars, computer classes, and helping veterans fill out benefit forms. There are also socially connecting opportunities with an office that likes to help coordinate veterans tributes in schools, parades and on other occasions.
Knox County puts on a monthly radio program for veterans, has an active Facebook page, and a newsletter that circulates to about 500 local veterans, Henthorn offered. But it is up to veterans themselves to make the Veterans Services Office aware of their existence and what their needs are — and many veterans have an amazing amount of pride and prefer to go it on their own.
Henthorn was accompanied to the county commissioners last Thursday by several members of the Veterans Services Board of Directors. They expressed optimism that the new Veterans Services Office on Chestnut Street, a main thoroughfare in Mount Vernon, will increase the office’s visibility — and make all local veterans more aware of its services. The Veterans Services Office will occupy the main floor of the old Central School building, which is under renovation. A move-in date is expected around the middle of 2020.
Henthorn said the “Welcome Center” when veterans enter the new location will offer a warm, welcoming environment, with coffee and water offered and no waiting area as has been the case at the current office.
“When a veteran walks in, they’re going to think ‘Wow, they did this for me. I’m proud of this office,’” Henthorn offered.
One big change for 2020 will be that the Knox County Veterans Services Office will be launching its own van system for transporting local veterans to VA medical appointments. Vans provided by Disabled American Veterans will no longer be used, Henthorn said. A major reason for that is there is no local DAV office. And in addition, the office does not transport many local veterans who are wheelchair-confined; when that service is needed it is provided by Knox Area Transit.
The Veterans Services Office has purchased a new transit van for its transport system, he said, and it will likely purchase a minivan later in the year.
“We don’t anticipate any disruption in services,” Henthorn said.
In-house counseling for veterans has also changed, he said, due to the resignation of Dr. Scott Johnson, who has moved into private practice. An interim counselor will be used while a replacement for Johnson is found.
For every local dollar a veteran spends in Knox County, they receive 35 dollars in federal funding. That’s a good ratio and helps the local economy, Henthorn said. Those 4,333 veterans in Knox County received total federal VA dollars of $22,782,797 in 2018, with about half of that going to compensation and pensions, and more than $10 million going toward medical care. Nearly $1 million went toward education and vocational rehabilitation and employment, with more than $200,000 toward insurance and indemnities.
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