On Thursday, August 10, 2023, at a meeting of the Finance and Administration Committee, Ottawa County Board of Commissioners Vice-Chairperson Sylvia Rhodea proposed Ottawa County commit to expanding the Ottawa County Department of Veterans Affairs to better serve our veterans as part of the FY2024 budget. Consideration of building the department, to include hiring a Director to oversee its development, will continue at the next Finance and Administration Committee meeting on August 21, 2023. Vice Chair Rhodea noted the need to provide more outreach to veterans, which in turn will increase the need for resources to appropriately serve them.
Veterans make up about 4% of Ottawa County’s population and account for 24% of suicide deaths. Following is additional data on veterans in Ottawa and the surrounding counties of Muskegon and Kent.
Muskegon County and Kent County fund departments to serve their veterans through a Veterans Services millage. Ottawa County Commissioners are not proposing an additional millage for this expansion, but it is helpful to review comparable millage and budget data related to serving veterans.
*Includes $80K County Service Fund grant for medical transportation, $40K from the State Trust Fund for veteran emergency needs, and $63K in county appropriations to support the emergency grant program of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Ottawa County first established the Ottawa County Department of Veterans Affairs (OCDVA) in 2011, to serve the veterans of Ottawa County and their families. The Department is staffed by a team of four professionals with backgrounds in providing government services. Each staff member serves the department one day per week, which provides up to 4 days of coverage per week, at a total cost to the county around $40K. Some of these dedicated professionals are retired from previous careers, and creating a county plan into the future will be helpful for the long-term vision of the department.
In 2022, the team handled 1500 contacts/phone calls with veterans for the OCDVA. Additionally, there are 3 or 4 Veterans Service Officers (VSO) who the team schedules appointments for. There are approximately 16 VSO appointments per week, equating to 632 appointments in 2022. It is anticipated the team and the VSOs will continue to provide services.
We are thankful for the staff’s thoughtful care for our veterans and plan that they will continue to be a part of the Ottawa County team serving in this area.
Ottawa County veterans have also been referred to, or chosen to go to, Muskegon and Kent for services. For example, Georgetown Township veterans often go to Kent County, and Grand Haven veterans go to Muskegon County for services.
RECENT GRANT INCREASE
In 2020, the OCDVA applied for and received a County Service Fund grant to purchase medical transportation services from Hope Network for Ottawa County veterans who were unable to provide their own means of transportation for medical appointments.
In 2022-23, the grant amount was $80,371. The cost of transportation services in 2022 was $15, 256, and the cost of administrative services for these services was $10,370.
The OCDVA was recently awarded an increased County Veteran’s Service Fund grant for $161,501. The County Veteran’s Service Fund grant is intended to assist counties in establishing a County Department of Veterans Affairs, support new initiatives that connect veterans to federal benefits, and/or enhance or expand existing veteran service operations to connect veterans to their benefits.
Ottawa County is blessed to be the home of hardworking Americans who love freedom. Our people have built a beautiful county with the resources to take care of those who have given so much to protect our freedoms, and it is long past time that we make our veterans a priority in the work of the county.
Building the Ottawa County Department of Veterans Affairs will allow Ottawa County to better care for veterans and their families, including surviving spouses. Hiring a Director for the department will allow for the creation of a strategic plan to increase outreach to veterans, provide greater development of strategic partnerships of government and private entities serving veterans, and ensure our veterans receive the services they need.
Muskegon County has been cited as an example for Ottawa County to model expanded services after, and we are hopeful Ottawa County will soon be a model of excellence in caring for our veterans as well.